I’ve noticed a giant uptick in pop-culture criticism, especially within progressive, queer, and people of color communities. This criticism is usually aimed at news articles, current events, judicial maneuvers, police cruelty, movies, music videos, celebrities, etc. that…
It happens a lot. You look at some news headline about surveillance or policing and think to yourself “Here comes the lurch of fascism!” Or someone posts online to alarm us to the fact that we are the citizens of the Weimar Republic, and now is not a good time to be a Good German. Or you meet someone who lived under a dictatorship and you think you hear them say “this is how it starts,” and would like to use this insider tip to alert the world…
Stop right there. These are the tell tale signs of confused alarmism. Because guess what? Your parents, and maybe their parents, were thinking the same thing in the 1950s or the 1960s or the 1970s. It’s important for us to catch ourselves when we dull the twin blades of analysis and language. That racist columnist in that conservative webzine was not specifically being fascist. That conservative movement is not immediately this era’s Brown Shirts. This politician and his law controlling our bodies or our telecommunications is not the bell toll for an incremental government takeover.
First, let us begin with subject position. I am a fierce opponent of this thing we call the United States of America, on both gut and intellectual levels. If we understand the United States as the state that compromises the that territory and its institutions, along with the capital that dominates its civil society, and the adjoining mythos, national traditions, and ethos of the country, than I oppose the United States of America entirely.
I also consider myself antifa, a term connoting an international movement of active anti-fascists, something that would be irrelevant if someone who was antifa didn’t think fascism poses a real threat in parts of our world today.
From there, I firmly believe that to oppose a nation-state in particular, or nation-states in general, as well as fascism, it is important to have a theory of each. Without having at least some sense of theory that frames what we oppose, we cannot well know what we are fighting, nor how to fight it. Now, theory is a good turn-off for a lot of people because they misunderstand it. More important than a boast of how many books you’ve read, we should have a good command of critical thinking, though a few books here and there do help us with our method and our framing of a subject.
Now, I would point to my earlier short essay differentiating between government and the state as my attempt to help us frame our understanding of the state. In short, every modern state where there is a class system and private domination of wealth has a modern police force and is, in effect, a police state on some level of the spectrum from, say, Norway to North Korea. The genesis of the modern police force is ably explained by Kristian Williams in his book as well as in a selection of others, and the rise of incarceration is explained by theorists that include Michel Foucault, Christian Parenti, and Michelle Alexander. Policing and incarceration comprise a system of law, order and repression that meets many of the needs of the modern capitalist nation-state, and they have been augmented in many countries by what have been called the national security doctrine and the surveillance society, which in some of those countries then overlaps with both private security firms and a sprawling military industrial complex.
Rather than compartmentalize these violent organs of the social order as the National Security State, Carceral State, or Surveillance State, I humbly suggest they all fit as organs of an overall police state which is by and large a model for nearly every state that exists in the world, or their alleged aspiration as in the case of so-called ‘failed states.’ This police state was propagated directly by imperialism and neo-colonial projects that trained and sponsored the creation of essentially modern police forces, or by the creation of an international juridical order that offers standards through institutions like the United Nations. In many cases, they are underdeveloped and deformed, as in countries where borders are entirely porous, militaries serve the principal domestic function of preserving internal order, or where there isn’t even a facade that violence is monopolized by the state.
This is not a linear view of national development, but a stark reality that both the imperialist stages of the past 500 years and the Empire that Hardt and Negri see as globalizing the world have sought to build for the interests of capital.
This analysis must be taken further, though, to incorporate a view of the police state as, in Wendy Brown’s words, a masculinist state run by patriarchalist institutions, and the shell of a racist society- whose details may vary from state to state, but on a global level exists as broadly white supremacist.
We could continue, but my point is simple. Every state or country is authoritarian by its very nature, but the degree and the intent have varied in history and in our world. Modernity, however, is a racist, patriarchal system of capitalist exploitation, and it has developed a police state to help preserve its domination, not to mention the array of semi-autonomous institutions that reproduce its ideology and preserve its hegemony (consent of the governed). It takes a particular kind of anti-liberal, nationalist movement to move a society or regime into the violent waters of fascism.
Fascism as Movement and State
Into this development stepped fascism in the period directly following the first World War. The development of the nation-state is uneven and particular in different places at different times, but even if we understood it to have had a progression from the 1648 Westphalia treaty along through French, American and later revolutions through, to and passed imperialist expansion, the countries of Europe were in many different stages at the end of World War I. Italy and Germany were each in very particular places regarding their degree of national unification, experience with liberal parliamentary government, and industrial development. Within each country there were uneven developments and modernity clashed with feudal or old-style authoritarianism.
Fascism, it has often been pointed out, was born out of these contradictions and advanced using contradictions to its advantage. It contradicted itself consciously. Fascism wielded internal contradictions, which united a lot of disparate forces to its rallying cry- including small landowners, businessmen, urban petit bourgeois, returning soldiers- and whenever some of these parts became superfluous, they were sacrificed to save the sum. It initially claimed to be both revolutionary and conservative, (sometimes) socialist and anti-socialist, unifying and divisive, depending on which sector it was trying to impress. For this reason in particular, it is easy for tiny fascist sects and powerful fascist regimes to make very different claims on fascism long after the demise of the Italian and German regimes.
But those contradictions were overwhelmingly surface-level tactics used in the consolidation of a nationalist movement, and peeling back the layers, there have always been unifying features. One of fascism’s central elements that distinguishes it as a right-wing ideology against left-wing socialisms is that it “stressed the organic nation over class as the highest expression of human solidarity,” according to Alexander De Grand. Where left-wing socialism instigates progress through class struggle, fascism imposes class collaboration in order to worship the centrality of the nation.
A fascist regime has never been perfectly crafted, though the stereotypical German efficiency might suggest they came the closest. And it has adapted to different realities at different times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t surmise a general criteria for determining what makes fascism particular. This is, I hope, the simplest way to be able to parse through the world’s police states and authoritarian currents to see where we truly find fascism, and where we are simply seeing some other form of fascism.
Anti-communist/anti-left Counterrevolution- Facism enters the stage when it is cued by periods of social unrest that inspire the growth of left wing socialist, communist and/or anarchist movements. In Germany and Italy, the early fascist squads and their immediate predecessors took the lead in killing and assaulting peasant, working class and leftist struggles, as can be seen in the Biennio Rosso period and the Freikorps movement. This is then followed when fascism becomes a regime with an imposed class collaboration, which inevitably ends in the favor of the capitalist class.
A populist rhetoric- Both bourgeois societies and totalitarian ones use mass culture, but not always with a bend toward populism. Here, the populist rhetoric claims that the rulers are simply the leaders of a citizenry, although who is allowed membership in that citizenry is carefully delineated, as we shall see below.
Anti-liberalism- Liberalism, the most wholly capitalistic political ideology, suggests that the political form of society be liberal, bourgeois and representative democracy, and fascism comes in when that electoral strategy is failing capitalism. It dispenses with the pleasantries of a liberal civil society, from ideas of free expression, privacy and political or cultural pluralism, because fascism knows that it is needed to save the nation.
A heightened police state- Whereas in most police states there is ostensibly some measure of checks and balances, fascism wrestles down even the appearance of checks and balances.
A middle class base- Non-state sectors of the population are allowed to take a paramilitary role in safeguarding their state, national identity, and mythos, and often this is the small landholders, military veterans, managers, owners, and nationalist workers being used against the oppressed and the exploited.
Voluntaryism- Known also as the triumph of the will, the idea that a perfect nation and race can use its will to perfect itself and seize everything it desires. In this, the will must be universalized, and any dissent must be eliminated. The greatest citizens will reveal themselves during the nation’s wars.
Racial nationalism- A sense that the nation is linked to racial supremacy, and that in some way, through cultural genocide or brutal genocide or simple subjugation, inferior nationalities and races (race as genetics or ethnicity plus structural power) must be dominated or destroyed.
Ultra-masculinity- The State is rhetorically conceptualized as the protector of the civilian population. This and other traits of an idealized masculinity are conferred upon the state.
Totalitarianism- Because of all of these unifying features, fascism seeks to destroy each person’s private life and force them as much as is possible into a public life that proves their allegiance to the new central tenets of the God, family and country.
One of the common threads in the traits I have described is a total subservience of nearly everything to violence. From the nationalism to racial nationality to masculinity, dominance is proven by the centrality of violence. The violence comes through the usual state organs like police, political/secret police, and the military, but it is also exhibited in the populist rhetoric, the voluntaryist sense of will, and the use of civilian fighting squads to quash dissent. Without the centrality of violence, and an at-minimum rhetorical allowance of unbridled violence to prove supremacy, I do not believe we can call something fascism.
Fascism as Political Epithet
Godwin’s Law is a theory on the internet about the devolution of online threads that will eventually lead to someone killing any useful conversation by analogizing one of the objects being discussed to Hitler, the Nazis or fascism. While fascism has its defenders in the mainstream right of many countries, Nazis and Hitler are considered the absolute example of evil, both in their intent and execution. To liken something to Naziism is to shut down conversation in the way someone centuries ago in Salem might shut things down by just surmising their opponent was a witch.
Since fascism is real, and actually exists today- more often than not in the form of movements rather than regimes- we are rendered incapable of fighting it if we have dulled the blade of the term by using it at every authoritarian impulse. Likewise, we don’t know how to fight the angry dog of our current police state because we have cried wolf so many times, and you don’t necessarily deal with an angry dog or even a coyote as you might a wolf. It is easy for the right to call the center-left fascists, and the left to call the right fascists, and conspiracy claimants to call perceived threats as fascist, but it all allows any real fascist threat to move about unopposed.
It is easier to cast a movement as fascist than it is a regime, and indeed movements with varying degrees of fascism exist the world over. They range from the explicit, including the KKK and neo-nazi groups, to much more contemporary, home-grown varieties, like some elements of the American Legion in its day, or some elements of the Tea Party or the Minuteman Project very recently, composed as they are of violent, anti-regulation, middle class, nationalist civilians.
Now, one last note.
I said before that fascism has never been perfected, and that is important for understanding how we define fascist and fascistic regimes. In large swathes of Mussolini’s Italy, corruption and semi-feudal patronage systems ruled the land. In Franco’s Spain, the ruler himself was more a conservative and the forces that swept him to power ranged from outright fascists to nationalistic conservatives. In Pinochet’s Chile or Suharto’s Indonesia, a military regime used a coup d’etat to take power, though a widescale use of death squads and gangsterism were central to the regime’s survival.
The United States and the United Kingdom are not fascist states, and not all of their authoritarian proclivities foretell of fascistic overtones. Nevertheless, the US has a history of fascistic movements that wave its flag, often call for the elimination of unions and regulations of businesses, and/or focuses on the racial purity of the nation. Taken together with organs of the state and big business, these have often placed fascist-like domination upon Black, Latina, and indigenous people. Fascism, despite claims to a totalitarian society, is always uneven.
The key takeaway, though, is that racist police states and authoritarianism, and the social order they protect, are structures that are always worth combating, and we are more capable of doing so if we have a sober analysis of them. In particular, when some part of those trends actually are fascist, we are tasked with a particular responsibility to nip them in the bud or push them back lest they take hold.
Neither taxes nor debt nor being a highly criticized rap star is the new slavery. For that, take a peak into the prisons.
Assistance in Understanding the Rage over Trayvon's Killing for the Clueless
On September 11th, 2001, most of the country watched a second plane hit the twin towers on television- live or later. It was a mass experience that people internalized from the mass culture in a different sort of way than we internalize all of the other messages we are inundated by the mass media and culture. It traumatized us. It caused a collective trauma, one that was reinforced for days by re-watching the horrific scene. Most of us, whether we had endured serious trauma in the past or not, were hit hard by the initial images that we saw.
Over 4,800 Black or white people are said to have been lynched between 1884 and 1968 (in addition to Chinese, Mexicans, indigenous people and others), according to the Tuskegee Institute. The violence was advertised in newspapers, attended by large crowds that spanned the ages, and held against individuals or sometimes even entire communities. Like 9/11, the lynching was a method of violence in the form of terror, so even when an individual was killed, an entire people was threatened. When Emmett Till was lynched, it shook a people who had lived through that collective trauma for generations.
As is far too often, we are speaking different languages, and what is meant by that is that we are speaking from different experiences. So, when the five white jurors and one Latina juror, or many people around us, watched the story of the Trayvon Martin case unfold, they saw an individual incident. They didn’t see any patterns. Many people still don’t understand why the death of one young man caused such a storm of feelings in the hearts of so many people.
In the past thirty to forty years, about as many people have been killed by police as were lynched during the 84 years of that study I mentioned above. There are almost as many people in United States prisons and jails at any given moment as during the entire 30 years of the existence of the Gulag during Stalin’s reign, a number which is eight times the number of people incarcerated in 1970. Shootings by police are not lynchings, but they are very frequently racially inspired, very frequently of unarmed civilians, and very frequently the actual events are covered up by a deceptive official story. And they are national- everywhere, especially where predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods are.
Add to that violence within Black and Latino/a communities is met by what many people see is institutional negligence by big businesses and government at every level. Governments close schools, health clinics and trauma centers, and cut funding to anti-violence program, while businesses cut jobs or promote terribly unhealthy media images. (If you think consumers create what is in the media, you need to go back and read Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations.)
So, when a young Black man in a hoodie was followed and gunned down because he appeared as though he didn’t belong in a predominantly lighter-skinned and petit bourgeois gated community, generations of collective trauma are conjured up. When a courtroom restricted discussion of race during the trial of his murderer, and the late Trayvon Martin was put on trial rather than the defendant of the actual trial, people felt a lot of trauma. Sometimes trauma is digested through silence, sometimes by the creative impulse (think of the Blues or most other genres of music), sometimes by the need to have an outburst, sometimes by long-term, strategic work. But people have trauma, and if the causes of trauma are not dealt with, it compounds.
Mass violence spreads terror throughout any community that has a sense of collective identity. Keep it from the public eye, and it can become a form of constant and unspoken domination; put it in plain view, and there’s a more public sense of terror that offers people a space to respond with rage. That mass violence is felt in a different way when it targets those identities, be they nationalities, races, genders, religions, gender identities. Not all identities are the same, however, and there will always be a deep sense of anxiety for those whose visible identities are already marginalized by institutional factors, be they mass incarceration or Jim Crow policies. The trauma isn’t something people sorta kinda feel, it is something they feel in their bones, as people just like them, and sometimes people they know, and sometimes people they care deeply about, become the prey of this mass violence.
I hope maybe someone might read this who didn’t understand, and if you still don’t understand, please let me know and I will try to help you better. In those moments where my trauma isn’t taking over my ability to act.
A contribution to a discussion on anti-Black racism that we multi-racial and Latin@ people need to be having
"America was shocked. America leads the world in shocks. Unfortunately, America doesn’t lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock."
A lot of white people are embarrassed by white people right now. A lot of Black people are angry at Black people right now. I am mad at Latino/as. A lot of mi gente are floored right now and crying for Trayvon, but that doesn’t absolve us of the need to have a serious talk.
George Zimmerman’s racial identity is fluid. Regardless of his ethnic ancestry, because let’s not be deterministic that that is the determinant of race, do you follow? If Zimmerman considers himself white, that is a key factor; if he considers himself Hispanic, that is a key factor; if he bounces back and forth, that is a key factor.
We all suffer from internalized oppression. We internalized race *(loosely, ethnicity and/or skin color + power) over and above ethnicity because of the material conditions that are the effect of a white supremacist system. A global white supremacist system, though it may take on different flavors from place to place. If you don’t think it is global, look at a fucking map and read some political economy. And some brown people seek to be exempted from their race by a white society.
I don’t know Zimmerman’s thinking, but I know that he desires whiteness. Zimmerman neither represents Latinidad nor being mixed-race, but he represents an internalized oppression that seeks white passage and the bourgeois fantasies it often unlocks.
I have a superficially similar background to Zimmerman. As a light-skinned, mixed-race Latino, social pressures- indirect and in-my-face direct- and the anxiety they instill propel me to pick an identity. For a whole lot of reasons I make my choices in that arena, from the traumas and the jabs and the pinpricks and the flavors and the love and the tears. Zimmerman is a weak man, like a whole sea of weak people, and he wants what he was told to want to have. And you cannot have what the white bourgeois have unless you keep it from the Others. He seeks privilege which means he must marginalize. He chose to murder.
Meanwhile, too many people of all colors seek to essentialize race and often tie it to genetics. Latinos and Blacks can be as bad about this as whites. And it can lead to self-hate and a projection of that hate. They, of all colors, seek to determine everyone else’s race as if it was easy to distinguish the colors of the falling autumn leaves, the darker in a state of greater decay by society’s judgement. But it isn’t easy to tell the color of the autumn leaves, as speckled and peppered and in-between as so many are; and race- such as it is- remains fluid.
Zimmerman’s race fluctuates under the gaze and rhetorical needs of his defenders and opponents. Similar to Obama’s, or even to mine. Trayvon’s race remains fixed. So, too, Ramarley Graham or Emmitt Till.
Is Obama Black? It depends on if it benefits his racist opponents (and I’m an example of one of his anti-racist opponents) for him to be a mutt, a mongrel, a monstrosity, a freak product of miscegenation; or to spread the conspiracy claims that he’s a Muslim, a Kenyan, a definitive Other. What is Zimmerman’s race? When he needs to belong in a gated community, he’s white (enough); when he needs to not be a racist according to the courts of law and public opinion, he’s ‘hispanic.’ Zimmerman knows who will survive in America, and he wants to be on that winning side.
At any time, there are two judges of race (amid a multitude): the one who wears the skin, traditions, scars, history, and internalized desires; and the one under whose gaze they fall, this subject with its own skin, traditions, scars, history, and internalized desires. That’s a laundry list of dirty clothes to try to wade through for an answer.
Regardless of how confused we see race in other countries, other Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, our minds cannot remain stable under the pressure they take in this country either. Born there and came here or born here but bleeding-there, it is both the a world system of oppressive race relations and a one with national boundaries that we are balancing between. Black people victimize Latinos, Latinos victimize Blacks, and all the while white people go where they want. Let a Black man enter a white neighborhood and it’s criminality; but let a white man enter a Black or Latino neighborhood and it is development and gentrification. And why is that ethnic cleansing and displacement not a criminality of its own. Because they are at the center.
But it isn’t all thorns and razor wire. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on. Chicano, Black, white, inmigrante, it doesn’t matter who you are in the California state prison system right now. For the second time in so many years, all of these prisoners are on a hunger strike, the biggest ever in their state at 30,000, against a system that grinds them all down. The system may do it unjustly and inhumanely and illegally, but that’s not it. The system does it because it must for bigger reasons. And it leans that crushing and smashing down on people as their shades get darker- this is the system that people thought they might get racial justice out of sending Zimmerman into, remember- but the people who have been pushed to divide along racial lines in the starkest conditions have come together to keep their eyes on the prize. We could use some candor. Then maybe we’d be ready to fight alongside each other as well.
If you’re going to front load on national security trigger words, at least make it into a mad lib. Like:
I was riding my _C4_loaded_cesna_ from school to _fly_into_Shea_Stadium_ for dinner, when I saw an ice cream _car_bomb_ and decided I wanted to buy a _fertilizer_ cone. So, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a _box_cutter_ and offered it to the _environmentalist_ who gave me _anthrax_ in change, and handed me a _fertilizer_ cone. As soon as I got back on my _cesna_ I saw a _animal_liberation_ coming from around the _wikileaks_. I pedalled as fast as I could down _Pakistan_ Ave, and made it all the way to the _uranium_plant_ before I spilled my _fertilizer_ all over my _pressure_cooker_. I know that stains worse than an _qaeda_. So when I got home, my _mullah_ saw the stain on my _pressure_cooker_, and sent me straight to my _gtmo_ without any dinner.
The comprehensive guide to precise headcounts at marches
Tell no lies, claim no easy victories… Amilcar Cabral
I have been doing headcounts at protest marches for some ten years. I have only counted a fraction of the perhaps thousands of protests I have been in, but sometimes I think the crowd is of a reasonable enough size, and I don’t have other tasks. I offer to you the basics of my method, most of which simply depends on counting very rapidly and having a quick and attentive eye. There are some details worth sharing, however.
Pick a march & start small
For your first count, start small. Long counts require lots of stamina to remain equally attentive and alert. Pick a march that is in the hundreds. If you can headcount a rally, feel free to, but marches are much easier. In a march, almost everyone in the crowd is walking in the same direction, whereas in a rally, people are milling about, and there is greater variability of people coming and leaving, reducing the ease of a count. Also, marches that march on sidewalks or streets can get more narrow, so you have a better shot of counting across the crowd. I have counted up to 20,000, and you can too, but not nearly on your first try.
Where to count from
There are multiple ways to locate yourself, but there are a few criteria to help:
First, use some of your knowledge as an organizer and a protester. Is this a point in the march before a lot of people will leave? Is this a point in the march after where a feeder march or rally might join? What’s the point of counting if you pick the smallest point? If the main rally is before the march, count as early in the march as possible, and if the main rally point is toward the end, then count later. If there is a site where people are rallying or marching into the march, wait until after that point.
You’ll need to be able to see high and low. You’ll need to be able to see across heads, signs, banners, and puppets to the other side of the street, but you’ll also need to be able to see babies (I count them), children, short people, and people under banners and puppets. Be ready to move up and down like a gibbon, and don’t get too self conscious. Climbing can also help, but not if it still leaves any people who are short or behind something obscured.
You’ll need to be able to move. If the march starts to pick up fast, or you find yourself counting too slow, you’ll need to be able to begin to move with the crowd. At this point, being able to recognize people you’ve already counted is important. Equally as important, learning to walk sideways or backwards without running into people or lamp posts. This means overhangs (like a Chicago El station) are not ideal, unless you are sure you can stay ahead of the crowd in your count.
Make sure people can’t march on the other side of you. Pick a side, and if you are on a curb during a march in the streets, and some marchers cheat and take your sidewalk, try to count them or account for them.
Find a bottleneck. One of the easiest ways to count is to find a part of the march that is either forced to be narrow (e.g. where there is construction on one or both sides of the street) and/or where marchers are forced for some reason to go slower or stop often. It’s a lot easier to count 10 across than 30.
Pick who you’re counting
I have my understanding of who I am counting. I count marchers, babies, and reporters, but not uniformed police, plain clothes police that I recognize, or bystanders that I am positive are not in the march (be careful with this one). I count press, because a lot of journalists who are there may support the cause, and because it is very difficult to distinguish between marchers and reporters, unless they have a foot-long Nikon lens in front of their face. Don’t stereotype by race, clothing, or culture who is in the march and who is not, unless it is plain-as-day (e.g. a march of uniformed union workers).
Don’t get distracted
The thing about counting is, you can lose track really fast. Don’t stop to look at friends, beautiful banners, or attractive people. Pretend you’re counting zebras or geese. Learn not to respond to friends if the march is moving too fast, and to flash them a smile while keeping your eyes on the prize.
There are too main methods I’ve used over the years to keep my count. One is to tally based on 100 and 1000. I can do this two ways: one is to have a pen and paper or a sharpie on my skin, to tally every 500 or 1000 marchers. I keep track of hundreds on my left hand, which begins as a fist and I pull up a finger for every 100. It can be useful to count by pointing with the other hand, if your eyes need the assistance. If you keep a good tally, you can start only counting to 100. Occasionally, say the full number aloud to a passerby, which will help you keep track.
The other way began in 2012, when a comrade who had seen my many counts decided to make my life easier by giving me a few tally counters. At first, I felt like John Henry seeing the steam drill, but then I realized how much this would help me. They are manual, and they should work great. Be prepared, in large marches, to need to switch which finger is doing the clicks. In this way, you can either still try to count the whole thing with the counter as a back-up, or you can start counting only to 10 or 20 at a time (pick a low-syllabic number close to the number of people who might be marching in a row). The key, then, is to click for every person you count.
If you lose count
Find someone in the crowd with a flask of bourbon.
Learn to stop counting
When it’s all over, remember to stop counting. The people on the bus or the subway will think you are weird or have OCD. If you need to keep counting for a little while afterwards, make sure to ended with a laugh like the Count on Sesame Street. You’ll still look crazy, but at least a bit more amusing.
Now, through the course of your count, you missed people. Someone was too short, or was under a puppet. Someone walked around you. Maybe you even got distracted (if so, up your game). More likely, people left the march before the point in the route where you started counting, and other people joined the march late. You simply can’t count everyone- even counting twice means you are only getting two numbers, not differentiating between who was in one count but not in another. When you give numbers, add a buffer that can honestly account for that. Consider variables like how many public transit stations did people pass before they got to you if they might’ve left early, or vice versa. Take an honest estimate of anyone who might’ve gotten around you on the other side (having worked in animal shelters, I’m confident few marchers ever get passed me). Add a small percentage of your count on top. So, if I counted 5,800, I might say 6,200. If I counted 390, I might say 415. You should never have a buffer estimate of over 10%. And in neither case am I suggesting I know how many people were in the rally, which I always assume to be bigger, since a lot of people don’t feel like marching for whatever reason.
The worst part of counting is that you have to tell organizers and marchers that they didn’t have two million people. If the spirits are high, and the energy is good, and you feel like your number is going to disappoint, consider only telling press, press relations activists, and organizers, until the next day. Make sure to put forth the effort, though. Organizers and press should be told on the spot, especially if you think they are likely to inflate or deflate the numbers. Be prepared to have to explain to people that they can’t believe their own estimate over your count, because your number isn’t an estimate, it’s a headcount.
First, it is laughable that any organizer ever uses the phrase “Speak truth to power” if they can’t be honest with the people they are trying to organize. You are not building a new subjectivity if you are treating people as objects. Be honest with your march participants and your movements.
Second, we can’t complain about the bourgeois press if we aren’t honest with ourselves. We have to be on point in honesty and being truthful. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for misleading the authorities or whomever is the target of your political action. But if you tell them you had multiple times the number of people in an action that you did, they will laugh at you, not be intimidated. Similarly, it’s easy for the press to deflate our numbers when they can never find the numbers we tell them to be credible. The only reason to lie to the enemy is to confuse them, not to try to scare them or to prove you’re bigger than you’re able of organizing, which leads me to…
We can’t assess our strength, our ability to mobilize, our needs as movements, if we sit around lying about the details. It is better, for example, that organizers know they had 6,200 marchers in May Day 2013, half of the 12,000 marchers in May Day 2012, so they can analyze both what they did differently, and how the material conditions of the moment made their mobilization easier. Sometimes our strength is in our numbers, and sometimes it is in our solidarity, our work, and our creativity. If we can’t guarantee 10,000 or 50,000 or 500 in the streets, then it helps us know not only that we need to organize better, but that we have to be more creative with the numbers we have. Maybe it’s just the historical materialist in me, but part of the fight for social justice (or social revolt, which I prefer) is the fight for critical thought, for agency, and for truth.
[Note: I wrote this before reading a lovely piece by a comrade. Check it out.]
(Note: The following is a draft. Expect an expanded piece soon.)
It had been unduly hard to discern where the emerging and sexier trends in Marxism have placed themselves, veiled as they are in ultra-left aesthetics and memes. Sure, plenty of cues are present, but those might’ve been incidental and only indicative of a desire to suggest a broad selection of socialist thought.
The need to investigate has ended. The Jacobin have staked themselves as pink, when what we need is a nice maroon. Bhaskar Sunkara has written a piece for In These Times that has planted his flag down for a revisionist stand for democratic socialism, a turf that seems to be populated by a lot of these groups and editorial boards, including as well The New Inquiry.
It isn’t that democratic socialism is altogether a sad derivation from Marxism. In fact, the energy these people are bringing to the table is welcome, and I, for one, hope their project of growing the democratic socialist left is successful, particularly if it finds a strong tendency toward feminism, ecology, and decolonizing politics. If anything, I would see their project stronger. The historicity of the contemporary moment in social programs that Sunkara lays out is finely laid out although severely incomplete, including its disregard for gender, questions of self-determination, and the significant impact of anarchism, and even more so autonomism, on today’s active radical left. He is right as well that progressive (re: liberal but social democratic) reform is a welcome alternative to the “things must get worse before they get better” strategic thinking that come out of the ultra-left and insurrectionary corners.
But what I will say is that Sunkara’s vision is not the best that Marxism can offer, and it is not the breath of fresh air I might’ve hoped to see. What we needed most was a Marxism that takes all of the lessons of the 20th Century, including decolonization and feminism and the recognition of the failures of the Soviet model, and what it appears we are getting is a retread of the revisionist politics that Lenin and Luxemburg were fighting against. It is a socialism that in the end didn’t challenge empire, held workers back from fighting for power, and devolved into what was termed economism- that is, the fight of socialists for immediate economic gains in lieu of a synthesis between economic struggle and the struggle for political and social power. It is a socialism that pulled back on the insurrections in 1919 in Europe or in France in 1968, rather than having faith in workers and students and oppressed groups to experiment with the seizure power for themselves. What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
My own communism (which I understand to be within the wider realm of socialist thought) has taken lessons that Sunkara seems to have ignored from anarchism. The anarchists, many not realizing that much of their style is derived from autonomous Marxists in Europe and Latin America (as well as feminists and environmentalists closer to home), including mass scale direct actions and shut-downs, bring a sense of rebellion into the post-Soviet era that has offered the vast majority of the participation and training in direct and participatory democracy this side of the non-profit industrial complex. Corporate-style as they are, the non-profits and unions have done some of this groundwork to rebuild a civil society, but the autonomism and horizontality in the environmentalist, counter-globalization and Occupy movements, as well as in a myriad of other movements, should not be dismissed nor dismantled. Just as progressivism and what Sunkara calls the labor-liberals should be pulled into a pink socialist camp, the far left needs a Marxism that takes on the tremendous advancements in thought and practice paved by those in autonomist circles as well as the radical agents who are correctly using identity-based tools to combat intersectional oppressions, without dispensing with the wealth of thought provided by Lenin and decolonization struggles in the last century.
Take, for example, the question of social programs, one that I recently laid some thoughts on, and the recognition of a profiteering non-profit industrial complex that itself is an amalgam of caring leftists trying to be useful, and poverty pimp careerists who couldn’t give a damn about questions of agency or self-determination in the hood, the barrio, or the workplace. These operations have strings that trace back to their financiers or state funding and to a politics of conciliation and sometimes even abandonment of poor people when they decide organizing resources are need to go elsewhere. While a greater entanglement with overt socialists would be invaluable, the mutual aid and direct action efforts of the farther left (which themselves are far from cooptation retardant where non-profits are concerned) offer alternative methods of organizing on the ground that many communities have found more effective and less top-down. From school occupations to copwatch to wildcat strikes, they have offered methods of organizing that cannot be halted by the Congressional sequester or a nervous donor. While the autonomists get stuck in dogmas around self-management, sometimes they offer valid lessons to projects for self-determination and direction in poor communities and workplaces.
Just as Sunkara’s democratic socialism (with markers that ring of eurocommunism to me) is needed to challenge and pull the liberal left, the autonomist and communist lefts need to be the radical projects that occasionally collaborate with democratic socialism from the left while building up our own institutions, intellectual and street-level. The dream of the young democratic socialists I’ve met in recent years cannot be an effort that pulls back on the reigns of the far more radical attainments made in the most spectacular elements of the left, themselves greatly influenced by social struggles in regions like Chiapas, Argentina, Venezuela, and Greece, where either the erosion of state control (or the governance of the Bolivarian left) has opened space for the creation of popular power in factory occupations and neighborhood assemblies. What the radical left needs is a break from its puritanical fetishization of tropes, a respect for the need to collaborate with other lefts, and most of all, a healthy, engaging series of projects in theory that the New Inquiry, the Jacobin, and others are affording to the soft left ideal. The left in the United States does not need a new praxis in the sense that the Jacobin is bringing it, but one that coalesces around the models and methods of lefts old and new, something we perhaps get to watch social movements do in places like Venezuela and Greece. We are neither of those countries, but it is not enough to fall back to a social democratic movement that in the past centered around poor method and led to capitulation to war, exploitation, and sell-out politicians and institutions.
Those of us who have spent most of our political lives in the streets need to engage more with theory, and we need to do so with the most open and critical minds we can muster. We need to bring our experiences and reflections to the minds of all of the newly radicalizing or older but reinvigorated radicals for a project centering around popular power, and foster a healthy environment of critical thought that creates a space for feminism to Bolivarianism and Pan-Africanism, while figuring out how to pull liberalism out of these frameworks. And we need to grapple with the dialectic of spontaneity and organization, figuring out how far left movements that have become incredibly decentralized and autonomous can find an interplay with modes of organization that allow the far left to be effective, expanding, and long-term, rather than falling into sectarian dogmas that lose the relevancy that is created in fits and starts.
If both Occupy and the counter-globalization movements (along with anti-prison, immigrants rights, environmentalist and anti-imperialist movements) has shown anything, it is that we can actually build institutions outside of the conservative ones present in neo-liberal society, and ones that are not stuck in the bitter nostalgia of wishing past methods of organization (e.g. Leninist parties and syndicalist unions) could just be done better. Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of revisionist Marxism was not to say that communists (and anarchists) don’t appreciate and participate in fights for social reforms, but that they do not confuse the means with the ends, and in that place they also don’t shy away from direct confrontation. We can march for reforms, but not in place of engaging in militant work to erode police power in brown communities or to building community-controlled institutions of mutual aid and struggle. Taken alone, Sunkara’s path can offer the strengthening of the imperial republicanism, of a bourgeois power that is actively killing our brothers and sisters in our streets and around the world. The militant left need not only be an alternative to an emerging democratic socialist left, but a complement to it.
I wish the Jacobin well, then, and hope it achieves something of the goals laid out by Sunkara. I hope he also takes these criticisms in the spirit of camaraderie as he might not have in the past. We can, nay, must have our alliances. We can collaborate. In the end, though, they can have their soft left, but in the radical left we go hard.
A Primer on thinking about the State and Government
Sometimes, people who fight for social change feel dirty about particular work on reforms. Other times, so-called activists gloss over the need to have an understanding of the work that they do, and the institutions they are fighting for or within.
First, let’s come up with quick and simple definitions, since words should never be taken for granted:
The state is the organized monopoly of violence for the domination of a class over society.
Government is the system by which a state is governed for given periods of time.
So, for instance, the French state (laid over a nation, making a nation-state), can have successive governments that are empires, monarchies, and republics, but they each govern the same state. More particularly, successive administrations in power in the French Fifth Republic (the current one) may have different theories of governance, and therefore each successive administration may be understood as a different government.
In this way, the French state has always been an instrument of domination by either the feudal or capitalist upper classes against the exploited classes, including both those domestic and those in colonies or neo-colonial states. Therefore, the cause of the workers, women, and oppressed races and nationalities has always been to smash the state. But, different governments have existed that have had very distinct theories of governance, such that some have built institutions that serve the people and/or have been far more susceptible to pressure from the social unrest and organization of oppressed people. That leads us, I think, to suggest that the French Republic is preferable to monarchism or a Bonapartist empire for radicals, socialists, feminists, and anti-imperialists. The same could be said, for example, of the Spanish, Portuguese or German states, and their successive governments. We would be better to live and fight in a state governed by a liberal republican government than a fascist or monarchist government.
In this way, we can oppose the bourgeois state (a monopoly on violence for the domination of the bourgeois class), while fighting in our short-term work for more progressive governance and fighting in our long-term work for the abolition of the bourgeois state.
Two contemporary examples should best help us to express this on a practical level, social programs moderately, and Venezuela more radically:
Domestic Social Programs
Institutions of oppression can indeed change. The undeniably revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg begins the seminal pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution with a paragraph on how the two are a false dichotomy if they are understood at different levels: say, the first as means and the second as ends. A radical (most of whom are some form of socialist) should be understood to be one who does not confuse the two.
Outside of government, we can look at unionism or other efforts. The Community-Farmworker Alliance and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers can fight for Wendy’s or any corporation to pay Florida tomato pickers more, and those workers can be paid more. Aside from the lessons that collective social struggle makes social change, and the importance of cross-class and multi-racial coalitions in that change, there is another lesson. That is, that while no radical would argue for Wendy’s or Trader Joe’s to continue to exist, most radicals would agree that a change in their internal policies is better than a complete maintenance of the status quo. That lesson comes with the caveat that the change in policy cannot be the final goal of the social struggle, or it becomes a general maintenance of the status quo, but that it is nevertheless a step in a project with larger ambitions.
With the understanding that reforms within institutions of capital (i.e. businesses) are clearly more progressive than inertia or reaction, we can apply that lesson to institutions that serve capital, like the media or the government. The autonomy that institutions of government have from the state determines their level of progressivism. Their autonomy is generally related to the power that radicals have within civil society. So, we can oppose the state while fighting for a myriad of social programs and regulatory agencies. We can oppose the state while fighting for social spending to support non-profit or private entities that do important work (e.g. Planned Parenthood or PBS), or to fight for spending for and progressive administration of institutions like libraries, public schools, public utilities, state banks, fire departments, public transit, public hospitals, or what have you. We can also oppose the state, and sit in clear opposition to the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal system, while demanding the government not neglect its role to regulate capital through the EPA’s regulation of the treatment of the environment, OSHA’s regulation of workplace safety, the SEC’s regulation of finance. All three of the types of things that those agencies regulate are exploitative, but we will not win a revolution if the Earth, workers, and civil society are all dead.
Liberalism is the idea that these reforms are the ends, even sometimes claiming that there are more radical but usually unspoken goals that we don’t need to mention in public. Liberalism, then, is conservative because in the end it seeks to conserve the state and capital’s hegemony. Sometimes, liberal sheep wear a radical wolf’s clothing to claim this is some evolutionary revolution. Liberalism also shies away from talking about the need for radical change, thus turning reforms into tools of the hegemonic power to maintain the consent of the masses. But left-wing radicalism (again, which is generally socialist) has no intention to stop there, either in word or in thought or in deed. Indeed, the best way for a radical to make sure their radicalism is more than skin deep is to have at least some theory of society, and some essence of that theory at work in their practice.
The record of socialist revolutionaries taking over the machinery of the state can best be described as two forms of failures: either they failed to maintain the monopoly of violence and were defeated (e.g. the 1973 coup in Chile or 1871 counterrevolution in Paris); or they failed to create the domination of society by the oppressed, instead creating a new oppressive class and system of exploitation (e.g. China or the Soviet Union). In each case, their failures were not necessarily predetermined, but were based largely on mistakes made in the act of experimentation in attempting something that had never successfully been done previously. Their failures are not to be dismissed, but to be learned from.
Many strongly interpret the process in Venezuela over the past 14 years (and increasingly in other Latin American countries) as another such experiment. The state in Venezuela is still very much one that secures bourgeois dominance of society. The Hugo Chavez-then-Nicolas Maduro government is one that is trying to transition out of that state, however awkwardly, into a socialist one built for, by, and of oppressed sectors of the society. For this reason, many communists and anarchists that fundamentally oppose the state are able to support and work for the government, and its participation with society in creating institutions that bring about popular power and social programs.
For this reason, we fight not only for Venezuela, but for its government and its Bolivarian-socialist process, in hopes that they are indeed in battle with the state’s preservation of capital.
I hope that this brief contribution has been in some way helpful to you, and that you consider it a tiny bridge in a longer path to understanding how to fight for a better world in the ashes of the old.
The United States bourgeois press didn’t learn the cliche that “a lie told enough becomes the truth,” it practically invented that method. From ThinkProgress to the New Yorker to the Atlantic, it doesn’t take Republican-alignment to find producers and publishers hurling falsities down an echo chamber.
Back track to the 1960s. To spoil one of my favorite long-form stories, I have had interviews with a Pananian former CIA agent. His work was not only to inform the agency of local political or military insider information, but to misinform. The CIA sent him scripts to read on his radio show to the Panamanian public for decades, and he was brought to the United States to tour and spread more misinformation about Panama-US relations in universities in the United States. I still have copies of the letters and photographs that prove his point. The CIA, was not alone, and he recalls recruiters from many US agencies and private contractors in the 1960s going after local students and officials. In order for the United States to be sure there is democracy, clearly, it has to make sure it controls the democracy.
The problem with misinformation is that it acts as a decoy. Rather than responding to the confusion or curiosity of sectors of the general public- maybe writing to youth or academics or working class families- too many of my comrades on the Left direct their focus to responding to the spray of vitriol. It’s like being afraid to put your washed clothes out to dry and instead washing what you’re currently wearing because the upstairs neighbor keeps dumping their bath water. The sheer volume leaves the respondent in shock and unable to even find sources to say otherwise in the search engines. A little decoding doesn’t hurt, but it all detracts from remembering our main mission to uncover the truth in the pursuit of social transformation. If you do it, do it short, sweet, and with a sense of humor.
Decoding the Vitriol
It doesn’t take a decoder ring to parse through the language of the bourgeous press.
Chavez was an anti-Semite - Chavez didn’t support Israel.
There is no security - Chavez didn’t use the highly authoritarian styles of policing that also haven’t worked in Mexico or Central America.
Anti-US/tense relations with the United States - He showed the United States Venezuela was not their backyard.
Strongman - See Chavez consolidated power and add orientalist-style denigration of brown peoples’ capacities to make their own democracy and their own destiny.
Authoritarian - Don’t read the article about the US federal governmen’s assertion of its right to kill US citizens on its own soil, or the US support for Fujimori, Pinochet, Rios Montt, Somoza, Trujillo, Noriega, Suharto, Marcos, Stroessner, Mobutu, the Shah, the Greek Colonels, Saddam Hussein, etc.
Despot - Elected with enormous popular support again and again in the fairest elections in the world, despite a unified opposition in the corporate media and the U.S.-backed coup. Special Thanks
Now that you have your unofficial decoder ring, skip the bourgeois press and let’s get back to seeking out the truth.
Revolutions Don't Die: My initial reaction at the passing of Hugo Chavez
These are unedited notes. If you like them enough to want to publish, I’d be happy to come back and edit.There are many grammatical errors, however.
Our generation has few great heroes who have fallen before their time. Our parents can remember losing Malcolm and Martin and Allende and Nkrumah and Lumumba and Che and Medgar and so many others. But we have few we can really point to. And when we see them go, many of us are too quick to prove our disdain for iconography and our lack of faith in any kind of leadership.
Especially from the 1960s to the 1980s, Latin America was in the grips of dirty wars. Dirty, filthy, anti-communist wars. Wars in the shadows, wars in broad daylights, wars in mine-filled bay waters, in helicopters over seas, in industry-turned-torture chambers. Hundreds of thousands were tortured, murdered, disappeared. Continent-wide white terror heard that cliche about “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come” and set out to prove that death squads had a way of doing so. Towns erased, family lineages extinguished, peoples washed off the historical record, and dreams shattered. Dreams of independence, of socialism, of agency. On top of that, the Soviet-style dictatorships collapsed, and while the realities were complex (I probably don’t mean what you think I do), the writing was on the wall:
"History is over."
"Socialism was an experiment of the past."
"Neo-colonialism has won."
The 1990s (starting earlier for some, later for others) was a decade of defeat for many. It was a decade of rebuilding after the wars and dictatorships. It was a decade where neo-liberalism emerged atop the heap of rubble that was social unrest, and declared it had vanquished every foe. Cuba struggled through its Special Period. NAFTA had passed, and rushed processes that had hit people hard. The Zapatistas were a rare beacon of hope, and truth be told, their particular brand of autonomous struggle did not spread nearly as rapidly or forcefully as many other styles of revolt. The blood still visible in the streets. Privatization creeping across the lands like the Nothing. The Washington Consensus with its chin up. The people cowered.
It was into this mix that Hugo Chavez stepped. He was a man. Larger trends on either side of him propelled the possibilities. Squatters and anti-privatization uprisings and Zapatistas and social struggle. But Chavez’s victory, one I remember, signified that the Americas were not destined to be mono-polar. It signaled that the Allendes and Arbenzes and Bosches and Sandinistas had not existed in vain. And a hope sprung eternal, resonating across the continent.
Chavez played a huge role with social revolt across the hemisphere to resoundingly prove that socialism was not a dead fish in the water, and that capitalism’s warpath would not only go contested, but would take a beating back. Venezuela early on experienced a Constituent Assembly, where the same families whose loved ones had been massacred in the Caracazo of 1989 could participate in the creation of a new constitution, one of few countries to have ever successfully done one. Thanks to massive protests in every successive Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, Chavez was able to walk out of the project altogether. The process, be it revolutionary or socialist or radical, has often been slow, but it has happened.
And while Chavez was busy reapportioning the country’s wealth, building a different multilateral model in the Americas, breaking the oil oligarchy, nationalizing industries, and pushing back el tiburon (Uncle Sam), so much of the past 14 years in Venezuela was actually done because Chavez created the space for the people to do it. They no longer need fear another Caracazo massacre, death squads, or a dirty war. People occupied factories and reactionary institutions. It was people who set up this clinic and that literacy program, and people who demanded these resources or squatted land for community gardens. And when Chavez was ousted in a US-sponsored coup d’etat in 2002, a few days I will never forget, it was the people who revolted and did the unthinkable- overturned a fascist coup in a manner of days.
Uprisings and revolts across Latin America became increasingly common, as the masses were emboldened. Leftist or mildly left governments came to power in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, with varying results- but the point is that people across the continent (and indeed, the world) BELIEVED. They didn’t just fight, they believed once again that they could win. They believed it wasn’t just a ritual fight for their lives against inevitable doom. They took to the streets, or the haciendas, or the factories, and knocked oppressive structures flat on their feet.
You and I cannot assess Hugo Chavez right now. He is as worthy of biting criticism as he is of great praise. I follow Marx who contented we need “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” without fear of the results of delving deep. If you aren’t capable of that, you’re a poor Marxist. But you must look at the world for the forces that exist, and examine the balance of where we were yesterday and where we are today. Hugo Chavez impact was massive. He took a world spinning on an axis that would lead us all to ruin, and knocked it into left field. Venezuela struggles mightily with corruption, crime, and a violent criminal justice system. Y’know, like Mexico, Colombia, Iraq, Italy, and Chicago do. But the true assessment of Chavez is not what he did in life, but what carries on after him.
If Venezuela has been in the early throes of a socialist revolution, if the process was fueled by the creativity and sweat of the people, if that country and our region has built a sense of historical-subjectivity for those who were subaltern, bound to the margins, then Venezuela’s process has only just begun. Then Latin America is as much on a road toward a collective liberation and the downfall of authoritarian violence and mammonic exploitation, and the people across nuestra America have only just begun to fight and negate and build and create.
If it all ends soon, and we can’t simply point to some Western destabilization scheme as the sole cause (and we can’t), then I have been wrong. It was a wonderful moment, a huge and very exciting wave, millions saw improvements in their quality of life, and hopefully it will be done right next time. It will have laid some foundations, changed some details, saved many lives, and will be by-and-large rolled back under another reaction-Thermidorian or Chamorro-style.
But if it doesn’t, we are still just at the dawn of the future. And as Chavez has taken his last breaths, we move on that much stronger. A new world doesn’t just come correct. You have to build it. Our late comrade, I believe, has helped lay some strong foundations for that better world.
Sample Letter Requesting Coverage of the Grand Jury Resisters
I am happy that your __media_type__ the __paper/show_name___ chose to cover the anarchist feminist collective Pussy Riot, and Russia’s unjust incarceration of three of the members, one of whom has now been released. Coverage of the repression of dissent anywhere is one of the seminal tasks of a news media that serves the public.
That is why I am asking you to cover a story closer to home. As you know, the United States incarceration rate is the largest in the world. Among our country’s political prisoners, three young anarchists in Washington and Oregon states have now been remanded into federal prison for up to eighteen months because they refused to testify before Grand Juries.
Matthew Duran, Kteeo Olejnik, and Leah-Lynn Plante have not yet been charged with any crime, but face nearly as long as the Pussy Riot members for simply refusing to speak in one of the only institutions that somehow ignores the fifth amendment right to remain silent. The three are being held in Secure Housing Units, which studies conducted by the UN and the NY Bar Association have concluded are a form of inhumane treathment and torture, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Consitution.
For more information, check out nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.com . I look forward to reading your coverage of this important domestic case.
Soliciting donations to something that doesn’t exist
Nycga.net, and now Occupywallstreet.net, host a button to an account that is obsolete. It is to a general OccupyWallStreet fund that is directly controlled by the Accounting Working Group, and whose funds are supposed to be under the control of the New York City General Assembly. There is not New York City General Assembly. Therefore, the button must be erased. There need not be any decision made in any body that doesn’t exist. The button must simply be deleted. If the General Assembly returns, the button can return, but without a body to make decisions over the fund, without the body even existing that the fund is a donation to, the fund itself must cease to exist.
There is no argument to keep it. You can’t suggest “We need to get consensus” in a body that doesn’t exist. Period. So shutter the button and stop receiving donations.
Does this mean fundraising should stop? No. But all fundraising from henceforth should be intentional and directed. The idea that the NYCGA would have a general fund was foolish to begin with, and laid us open to graft, a resource war, and what everyone should agree was the deevolution of the General Assembly, which slid into becoming a chaotic foundation offering grants. That is the very type of institutional bureaucracy people like me are completely uninterested in participating in, and there are plenty of foundations to promote in that way without creating a new one. A new one with far worse issues of accountability.
It also became a massive security issue. It opened OccupyWallStreet up to investigation and the entrance of a legion of vultures and leeches who sought to swindle and scam money out of this massive budget. And those swindlers helped kill the energy and imagination that we had been creating.
How to Keep Fundraising
Instead, we should receive donations to very specific funds which are controlled by specific working groups or collectives. For example, the Tech-Ops Working Group should have its own fund. The NLG and a bail fund make absolute sense. Outreach, the Street Medics, Livestreamers, Arts & Culture (or individual artists), and perhaps specific political projects like Liberation Summer, F the Banks, and the Summer Disobedience School could have their own buttons, using wepay, indiegogo, or kickstarter.
But there should be no general fund, especially without a body which it allegedly funds. Delete the button and stop taking donations into that account.
Why the 99% Solidarity Agreement can kiss my red ass
Note: A rational response should be written to that dick statement concocted by liberals like the funders of the buses, Shen and whomever the fuck else. But that’s not where I’m at this week.
In order to board a bus to Chicago, you have to thank the rich 1%ers and their liberal cronies who are mostly unpopular within Occupy Wall Street but still creep among us, by signing this piece of shit.
Unfortunately, they don’t begin to know the meaning of solidarity. It doesn’t mean unity of purpose and strategy. It can mean alliance across wide sectors for a common cause. They completely ignored the Chicago Principles of OccupyChi. They used the word solidarity like a cliche and a buzzword, because liberals know more about marketing than coalition building.
There is no offer, from what I understand, to front the bill for bail for non-violent arrestees. There is no due process to determine if someone broke this Agreement. There is no offer of support to find a place to stay, to find a means of nutrition, but only a dependence on local Chicago organizers who have a different framework that isn’t beholden to fears of Black Bloc Boogiemen, or the fetishization of the nonviolence/violence false dichotomy.
And speaking of Due Process, on a day when a federal court found the NDAA of 2012 lacking in 6th Amendment protections, they didn’t define this terribly vague violence of fist, tongue, and heart. As one friend joked, “so no heartbreaking flings?” Does that mean no swearing? Or could it have possible meant no denouncing each other in the media, which is what real solidarity is about.
And there’s no humanity in it. The people who wrote this statement have not by and large been suffering from the PTSD of this system (and yes, I realize in the following I’m making a lot of assumptions for which I might need to eat my hat, but being poor, I’m used to that). They haven’t known the hunger or humiliatition or homelessness of poverty. They haven’t lost their jobs to automation or outsourcing and found no job but Wal-Mart greeter. They haven’t had their fourth amendment rights trampled for being a young brown man. They haven’t lost their families to the prison system. They haven’t lost cousins at US military checkpoints. They haven’t toured the bombed out areas of their homelands with their brown grandfathers. They haven’t suffered NATO wars or those of the white supremacist police state at home. (And yes, I know Shen’s self-promotional back story.)
What they did do was prop back up that Black Bloc Boogieman and instil wider fears that there are bigger threatswithinthe anti-war/counter-globalization/occupy movements than there are from the war machine and the police state. What they did do is delegitimize certain manifestations of struggle, outrage and indignation, and decide that there must be a play fair mentality with a system that does anything but. What they did was spit in the face to anyone who has undergone irrevocable damage at the hands of this system, and put the language of “the 99%” and “protesting NATO” at the face of it.
They made an avowed commitment to liberalism and to reject radicalism, right in the language of seeking “reconciliation” and some ephemeral “justice” rather than to “conquer and control,” the latter being their euphemism for being a part of the creationg of a better world on the ashes of the old. And then they had people sign that they will be stranded in Chicago if it is alleged that they violated the agreement.
And organizing a bus is not that much to be proud of. In Chicago, we did so tons of times to head to Washington, Minneapolis, Detroit, Benton Harbor, New York and elsewhere. It took some logistical work and fundraising, but there’s little a big institution like NNU gets to pat themselves on the back for. It woulda meant a lot more if they filled those buses with their members.
I’m not having a good week, so I’ll speak plainly. People who seek to enforce this law and order upon people in struggle are one of the cancers in occupy. To the few of you who are part of this and very well know what you are doing, go fuck yourselves.
The big day is done and the energy spent. How do we look back on a single day that was the culmination of hundreds of other days of collective efforts to promote, build and create an experience that can move us forward? Here are the three ways that I think it is useful to honestly review New York City’s May Day, from an Occupy Wall Street perspective.
Looking at May Day from a perspective of the massive expectations is not going to be pretty. Promotional materials overwhelmingly declared a General Strike, and the actual participation in the strike could hardly expected to have been a single percentage point of the workforce, shoppers and students. It was not a general strike, though it was billed as such.Strikes are not personal choices that individual workers or students make- they are conscious decisions by a workplace or by the working class and its allies as a whole.
Many declared that tens of thousands of people would be in the streets, and the numbers did not cumulatively build up to over twenty thousand, according to someone who does headcounts. It was suggested the city would see its largest shut down ever, but it paled in comparison to some surrounding the Iraq War and the Republican National Convention, not to mention the blackout, the transit strike, and other events. The 99 Pickets largely did not happen, in what instead became a roving and merging series of marches that visited multiple sites. The tunnels and bridges functioned normally, and there was no insurrection on Houston. The expectations were set as high as the greatest mountains, and they were not nearly met. There’s a clear lesson for next time. Don’t bluff, or expect your language to simply create the conditions for the realization of your goals.
The Day in itself
The day in itself was arguably pretty great. Bryant Park probably topped off at two or three thousand people, who broke into large picket lines of between eighty and 674 at nearby labor disputes and corporate headquarters. A march of 1,471 people followed the Guitarmy down to Union Square. There was a weak emphasis, however, on promoting next steps or creating space for new participants and attendees to plug in and feel a sense of commitment.
Union Square Park in particular needs to be understood in the context of New York City’s previous May Days. On the one hand, it was the united mass that had failed to materialize when two separate May Days happened at Union and Foley Squares in previous years, and that is a particularly exciting development.
Perhaps 15,000 people were in Union Square, and more than 11,000 were in the march down toward Wall Street, which should be seated in the reality that in the last few years’ May Days, I personally counted between eight and ten thousand marchers. The sad reality is that the unions, and I am a radical who is still pro-union, could have brought out numbers that brought the day up to forty to seventy thousand, or far more, but they chose not to exert their energy. The numbers themselves belie the significance of Occupy Wall Street. OWS was never strong based on numbers, and likely has never seen over twenty or thirty thousand in the streets of New York, numbers dwarfed by the many hundreds of thousands in the streets against the war in Iraq and Bush in 2003 and 2004. But OWS hit nerves and created space for mass participation. Don’t count the heads or feet, count the hearts and minds. Leave counting the bodies to me.
Students did walk out, inspired by OWS. Some businesses were indeed closed, hundreds joined together across the Brooklyn Bridge, the marches felt positive, and the assemblies on Water St gave a space for speech. A united mass march, the united action of Brooklyn-based occupy assemblies, and the coalitions that kept the day together are of particular note.
Militants engaged in a Wildcat March, one of many unpermitted marches, that did not steepen repression for the rest of the day’s participants, and hardly gave the press anything to divert attention away from the political significance of the day. Several other alleged militant marches failed to materialize. Far fewer were arrested than expected, though the over ninety arrests throughout the day did measure up to the worst arrest toll since November, and few if any will need bail.
The day was also notable as a day which was not at all strong on direct action. In point of fact, I’m not sure I can point to any at all outside of the few work stoppages or student walk-outs. But it was still a great day, and most responses I heard on the ground were positive and filled with hope. The day was not groundbreaking, but people felt an energy that comes from numbers, standing together in coalition, and variety of creative actions. Those left in the streets at the end had to deal with some police repression and a sense of confusion at the next steps, but most people left feeling that they were not alone in their indignation and desire to act against structural inequalities, termed capitalism or corporate greed or austerity.
Today for Tomorrow
The final, and perhaps most important, evaluation comes not from the yesterday or the today, but from the tomorrow. Were next steps actions well promoted? Did demonstrators see the significance of returning to the streets, the workshop spaces, the assemblies or actions of the ensuing days, weeks, or months? And did people leave with heightened energy that will propel us forward.
It’s hard to tell, but I think on these levels it may prove lacking. The May 10-15th days of action (#anotherNYC) were hardly discussed. Liberation Summer and the Summer Disobedience School did not become the watch phrases. Plans for further engagement at Sothebys, Capital Grille, and other local labor struggles may not have immediately panned out. Many people who had not felt a leg into OWS in months definitely came out, and some of them will be people mobilized as actors, not simply bodies in the streets.
Nothing was occupied or maintained in the way that we saw on March 17th and again over the next five weeks, where hubs and excitement over spontaneous shifts were seen at Union Square, Wall Street and Nassau, or the Federal Hall steps. Coming out of March 17th in particular, Occupy Wall Street found a reinvigorated sense of street and plaza presence and a dynamic capacity to adapt to changing conditions in those streets. It remains to be seen if May Day inspired a similar effect.
None of this is to take a one sided perspective of May Day, or to shit on people’s incredibly hard work. But we should tell no lies and claim no easy victories in the words of Amilcar Cabral. Our honest capacity for self-criticism and assessment helps us see what works and what doesn’t, and in a rapid and constant beast like OWS, allows us to look at where we are at in any given phase or period. May Day was a beautiful day in itself, a day that simply could not reach its massive expectations, and its effect on the immediate days, month or months afterward remains to be seen. New York City is a great city capable of some spectacular forms of resistance and creative experimentation with direct democracy, just as other cities have very distinct strengths in those fields. Occupy Wall Street is not going away, and our persistent work toward the campaigns and struggles that we plan or spontaneously move toward will take us forward. Just so long as we take pauses to assess that work and where we find ourselves.
Believing a Republican win will usher in a social revolution is an infantile disorder
For those of you who didn’t turn away right at the title, I have some really cogent analysis up ahead. Okay, not really cogent. It’s actually a little ‘correlation is causality’. But let me indulge. The perspective \one gets from some fellow #OWS radicals on this topic suggest the same poor sense that I’ve heard from dear friends for at least all of these years since Bush was handed the state of Florida in 2000.
The Black Panther Party is founded. Seven years of Democrats and there is a vast and increasing antiwar/anti-imperialist movement. Open rebellion in the streets of scores of cities had long since been waged by oppressed people. Before 1969, many other communities had formed their own Black Panther auxiliaries.Years of Civil Rights struggles, social upheaval and opposition to war become something different. A viable assault on the system itself. Begun under LBJ’s watch.
The response to exploitation by common people is in disarray. The left has focused on environmentalist, prison, police brutality and sweatshop organizing. These issues begin to merge until the despair of declase workers and students finds its voice in an uprising that still resonates with people around the world today. The Battle in Seattle. The shut-down of the World Trade Organization rounds by a green-blue-red alliance that was never thought possible. Direct action becomes the watchword. Street medics, indymedia, food not bombs and other projects balloon. And the coming-out ball of the North American wing of counter globalization ferment has legs for two to four more years. Under Clinton’s watch.
The whole world is watching the toppling of dictatorships in Tunis and Cairo. The revolt spreads across Spain where ‘indignados’ fight a ‘dictatorship of the markets’. Revolt breaks out in Tottenham, Chile, and once again, Athens. In Wisconsin, a nonviolent labor uprising emerges against a Republican governor, but nothing else measures up. Until Occupy Wall Street. Everyone around the world takes note. It spreads like wildfire. If we got anything right, it was the common enemy and the need for justice through our own means. Like the Panthers, like the IMF protesters, these people have taken on direct action. And we’re not done. To this day. Under Obama’s watch.
The Democratic Party is one of two bourgeois parties, in a republican electoral system that is properly known as a form of bourgeois democracy. A state (not Kentucky or Vermont, but the entire state apparatus) is a monopoly of violence that is dominated by a class, seeking to rise above society. Limited autonomy, but still wielded like a weapon by a class. In this case, it’s the boss class. The rich. The capitalists. The bourgeoisie. The 1%. So a bourgeois democracy is clearly a far better place to live than any two-bit dictatorship (unless you’re brown and poor), but it’s still a monopoly of violence built for class domination. Having two (or one or ten) parties is an element of that class domination. The only options you have are ones that will serve the rich. If the Chinese Communist Party chooses who you are allowed to vote for in Tianjin, then Wall Street chooses the viable candidates in Omaha.
Johnson, Clinton, and Obama bombed and occupied a lot of countries. The latter two presided over massive numbers of lay-offs, outsourcing, and privatizations. It is to unbounding heights of naivete that someone must climb to believe that the systemic oppressions under which we have suffered for so long might be vanquished because the wealthy have allowed us to elect someone from the vaguely less right wing party.
Do I have my street cred? Is my radicalism now an armored suit that allows me to say things you wouldn’t otherwise accept? Well, then, let me give it a try. Andrew Breitbart-usage of my words be dammed (literally), let’s be clear. Obama’s continued presidency is immensely better for the cause of social revolt in this country.
Set aside the question of whether Obama enacts policies that are slightly more benevolent than the other party, or just how much more or less incrementally he will cut down our social services and civil liberties.
The basic thesis is as follows: when a Democrat is in office, an amalgam of issues-based movements exist that begin to coalesce around coalitions that directly confront the system as a common cause; whereas during Republicans, we (as leftists, civil resistance, or whatever your chosen nomenclature) get drawn into fights around the president’s own crimes at war or in the course of repressive policies, and droves of people enter the streets to demand the removal, by resignation or election, of the INDIVIDUAL and his PARTY. In essence, with the election of Democrats, we gradually move against the system, while with Republicans we move only against their political party, offering the Democrats as a plausible solution.
And there’s a little bit more. We get flabby. We get people with weaker politics and zero analysis who then bog down our movements into lowest common denominator politics. If those tens of thousands more hit the streets with us to confront systemic oppression, then we are in a stage of more wide-scale radicalization. But weaker politics and demands in favor of greater numbers of people with heightened senses of urgency is not a trade at all favorable to real social change. To opened minds and the possibilities of victory. To a more long-term and cohesive level of movement forming.
There are two alternative theories worth overcoming. One is the ahistorical delusion that the election of Democrats will help us usher in the world we want to see. I will leave it to centuries of other articles to argue the point that the wealthy will never allow us to elect a master who will derail this great set up they have going.
The other is the terribly misplaced idea that a more authoritarian, further right wing regime will inspire the masses to the streets ensuing in some great leap forward to social revolt. The revolutionaries need not organize, because the people will be ready to fight.
Adventurous urban guerrillas attempted to actualize a similar outcome to terrible effect. They thought that violent assault on the system would catalyze the police state to move harder against the entire populace, and the oncoming fascism would propel the people into a death match against all forms of oppression. This indeed heightened authoritarianism in countries like Argentina and Brazil, and overtly failed to do so in Western Europe, Japan and the United States, but in neither set of cases did people find themselves closer to a revolutionary situation. They more often found their movements, and those around them, decimated.
Bringing it all back, let’s look what happened with Democrats in office. The Civil Rights Movement and angry street rebellions pushed Kennedy and Johnson towards reforms. People realized that it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t that these laws were too little, too late. It was that people who had been mobilized now saw that forming the system is not significant. It doesn’t lead to liberation. Victories and state violence, a brutal war under the command of a Democratic presidency, and a general radicalization happening globally inspired some of the most exciting political organizing in our nation’s history.
The roll backs of the victories of the previous few decades began in earnest under Reagan. And the people were no longer mobilized to defend their meager gains. Some people put a lot of work into solidarity campaigns with revolutionaries in Central America and Southern Africa, and ACT-UP did incredible work around HIV and homophobia. Few, however, were in any way at a pace to challenge the system. Most work was defensive, or in opposition to offensives against third world peoples.
That remained the case into the 1990s. A number of causes became significant, among them environmentalist work, struggles around the prison system and police brutality, and anti-sweatshop campaigns. And something happened. A lot of work, coalition-building and militancy paid off. Tens of thousands of unionists, environmentalists, and radicals shut down the World Trade Organization rounds. The Battle in Seattle became one of the first significant moments in social conflict in this country that the rest of the world would point to in decades. It took the WTO years to find another location willing to host it, and then it went for a monarchist police state, Qatar. Emboldened, a myriad of activists stopped considering themselves simply working in causes that were in coalition. We continued to move. We shut down the IMF and World Bank meetings only five months later. Quebec, Quito and Miami were all shut down as they hosted FTAA summits, a hemispheric free trade body that our movements helped defeat outright.
And the demise of the counter globalization movement was largely blamed on 9/11, and the need to shift focus back against militarism, war and affronts to civil liberties. Drive out the Bush regime. Impeach Bush. By 2006, I personally advocated that we never mention his name or that of Cheney in our protests. They were lame ducks, and decoys at that. Eventually even the massive marches and city shutdowns that erupted around the Iraq war lost focus. The key for the progressives (RE: liberals) was to unelect the GOP, while radicals resorted to grasping at straws.
Which is what we were doing for the first chunk of Obama’s administration. We lost the flab of those whose only work was to elect the Democrats instead of the Republicans. We watched impotently as the Tea Party became the loudest voice in the streets. We tried to create something that would gain momentum. And in 2011, people who had been building up causes to defend social services, collective bargaining rights, jobs, public education engaged in a series of experiments. Most fell flat. The rising in Wisconsin in February, followed by whatever it is that we’ve been doing in lower Manhattan, nay, across the country, nay, across the planet since September 17th. We weren’t busy trashing Obama or the Democrats. We were becoming a mobilized force. We were striking terror into the heart of the system. We were inspiring ourselves in ways we’d given up on. We were forming a radical experiment in direct democracy, albeit subject to assaults from all of the byproducts of the oppressive structures around us.
In Spain and Portugal, where the indignados blasted open the complacency with which the citizenry let political change pass them by, the more right wing parties were elected. That wasn’t the fault of the 15-M or Real Democracia Ya movements. But they now realize how they could’ve planned with more long-term thought and self-awareness.
Occupiers are not a type that is open to silly groups advocating we focus on immediate demands. We are not here to campaign. We are here because, what ever our place on the leftward wing of the spectrum, we have less than total faith in the electoral process under the thumb of big businesses. We will likely never endorse a candidate. But we have to be cognizant of the electoral context within which social movements expand and contract, and where wider consciousness opens and closes. If someone wants to work in the electoral system, they have a myriad of options that existed long before Occupy Wall Street.
But we do a great disservice to our struggles and dreams if we are incapable of looking beyond vague platitudes or ankle-deep analysis. If we want to continue passed indignation toward a possible game-changing moment, we will be better off without waging some errant culture war if we can put our sights on the system. The navigation of this particular fault line can’t be delineated by me alone. Marina Sitrin’s piece in Tidal, with which I have my caveats, echoes what she heard in the strategy of the Southern Cone. We must be Against, With and Beyond the System. We must refuse to vote or vote blank, we must vote, and we must create our own alternatives.
Our ambition is not to impress upon swing state voters that their plans to vote are counterproductive to the world we want to build. The election boycott is a tactic, not a strategy, and is invisible in a country with a long history of terribly low voter turnout. Allow some not to vote, or, like myself, to vote blank, which makes plenty of sense in the electoral winner-take-all system that will leave my voting area firmly in the hands of Democratic congressmen, senators, and presidents. But let’s not attempt to sabotage the victory of the Democrats any more than we seek to delegitimize the idea that a ballot box within a market dictatorship could make the change we want to see. The dog-and-pony show in Washington can impact where we are going, but the real power is in our communities, our workplaces, and our streets.
A swarm of locusts descends upon a field. A volcano erupts, magma coursing through its earthen veins. The waves crash upon the shoreline. Where there is movement, there is repetition. In none of those cases would you expect the pests or the plate tectonics to go online and check how it had been done before.
But we’re people, not elements or locusts. We’re capable of learning from the past. Of seeing what was done correctly, and as much trying to build better methods when we’d met failure before. And the contradiction between non-violent activists, who likely make up a firm majority at Liberty Plaza, and those whose morality isn’t built upon pacifism is like a rerun. I hope it’s the one with the happy ending.
I understand pacifists. It’s an easy morality to base yourself upon. Hurting someone is wrong. We want a world where people don’t hurt people. Non-violence is mixed. In the OWS uprising, it has been a major asset. People have been brutalized. They have very rarely hit back. And we have survived and grown.
But as a dogma, non-violence is as its name indicates. It is exclusionary. Aside from the terms used to connote opposition to oppression (anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-corporate) it is the only exclusionary term that is found on the center-left with such frequency. Its proponents would claim it is equal to those other examples.
But at its worst, it is a dividing line that attacks people individually, rather than uniting us collectively. Liberty Plaza is intended to be a non-violent space. It is for the most part. If someone is assaulted by an aggressive drunk and defends themself, is that an act of violence? If people are brutalized or caged by police and defends themselves, is that violence?
Non-violence not only argues that protesters should turn on protesters, it opens the door to violence. Peace Police, marshals or violent pacifists manhandle those they see involved in behavior they disagree with. Some pacifists persist in attempting to invoke sympathy from a brutal and racist police force, while shunning their own brothers and sisters who have worked to build Liberty Plaza if they dare engage on self-defense.
And just as dangerously, many self-defined non-violent activists refuse to define violence. Violence is a person’s physical aggression upon another. It is not the smashing of a window, the slitting of a tire or the placing of a sticker. Those are destructive. And Liberty Plaza is a non-destructive space as much as it is a non-violent space. But the two shouldn’t be conflated. If you are opposing the theory of corporate personhood, you have to deny the idea that property has personhood as well.
In the past, we have seen such contradictions. There are two possible outcomes. There is either a split, a break in unity, some pacifists become snitches (and others absolutely don’t, refusing ever to collaborate with the inherently violent police state), and the movement collapses in division and badjacketing. OccupyWallStreet veers dangerously close to this edge.
Or something called a respect for “diversity of tactics” arises. Before that term applied, the Deacons for Defense would respect Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent marches but he must respect the presence of their armed guard to defend the people from white terror. The anti-war movements had to contend with the same issue, both around Viet Nam and Iraq. In Palestine, non-violent movements are emerging, but some of their participants are little old West Bank women who will hit an IDF soldier back if manhandled.
We dealt with this frequently in our summit-hopping days. In the Counter Globalization movement, and likewise at various Republican National Convention demonstrations. Different sides of the same movement would negotiate. The intention was to maintain our unity and genuinely respect each other’s styles and value systems. We would not denounce each other in the media. We would not lay hands upon each other. There would be no violence or destructive tactics near explicitly non-violent actions. There would be different zones (green, yellow and red) where there would be different degrees of activity, based on spectra of legality and militancy.
Here are some of the statements, that sometimes took weeks or months to negotiate. Sometimes groups locked themselves into rooms in order to hash out the particulars. And it worked. Far more than creating a movement where we respect every freely associated individual’s right to (non-hateful) autonomy… unless it encroaches upon our sense of morality.
Another element of the hegemonic attack on ideology, and socialism in particular, is the fog machine we have that clouds our understanding of class in this country. Somehow, class is generally defined as a question of income. We specifically avoid any deeper definition, because that definition would eventually be based on the writings of Karl Marx. Reading: how un-American!
We hear it constantly. The American Dream. And its elaboration is usually to become what our society to defines as The Middle Class. It isn’t to become rich. It isn’t to exact social change that might create an equitable society that doesn’t even have an Upper, a Middle, a Lower. It is to join the Middle Class. Or to work all of our lives so that our sons and daughters can achieve this comfort and stability. That is what we aspire to. In the United States, perhaps, our ambitions could said to be modest. We hardly dream of the stars.
The Middle Class. Our messaging is saturated with this aspired position. Even the labor unions, the nearest entities we have to democratic organizations of the working class, askew that latter term in favor of the mythical Middle Class. They prefer to avoid the ‘working class’. The nearest many tread is toward the idea of ‘working families’, a progressive and anti-socialist phrase that usually ends with the idea that corporations are keeping this group from joining the Middle Class. ‘We’re families too! We’re normative in structure, let us be normative in status.’
The idea that everyone in the United States is or was Middle Class is silly. Not just because it’s undefinable, unless you peg it at a certain range of incomes or a certain level of boring suburban comforts, but because a class society requires an underclass. The very rich are not Middle Class. The 20-year old who drove me in her Lexus nine years ago wasn’t Middle Class as she claimed. The working class isn’t either, taking in mortgage debts and credit debts and increasing insurance premiums, and constantly in battle with employers who try to squeeze them of every drop.
And if we could create a capitalist United States where the majority of our country was somehow Middle Class, even though jobs at Wal Mart are subsuming those in union jobs at manufacturing plants, where would the wealth come from? It would come from exploited countries, poor countries, and the working class in those countries. We would get our comfortable living on the backs of billions of poor people in other countries. On the backs of children, while another twenty millions of poor people would starve so we could have picket fences and dog houses and DVR and Angry Birds.
But it’s too late. Capitalism fucked even that up. It allowed the creation of wealth to disperse from the superpower into the economic periphery. And a Bubble Economy, hardly staying afloat, now sinking, now floating, now sinking, is not a society where a majority will find financial security.
For me, that means we have to return to the definitions of class under Karl Marx. I won’t offer the details here (unless requested) because you’ve had ample opportunity to read them. But I will suggest that we have to understand what a class consciousness is. We have to take a class stand. We have to stop grasping at straws as we’re told there’ll be pie for our children when we die. It’s a lie.
Hi. We disagree. And you want to drag out this disagreement. Normally, I’d say that is fine. But not online. Hey, that rhymes! Why? There are a lot of reasons I am not going to debate with you online.
The main reason is because I don’t find any value in it.
The tone is generally terrible. Even if you are trying to have a positive tone, it might come off wrong. But more likely, you are one of the millions of people that has realized how to wield sarcasm and irony through the written word, and flail it like a broadsword rather than a scalpel. These tones represent our closure to the field of new ideas, and they help shut other people down. But even when they aren’t our tones, we have become so used to reading ‘snark’ on the internet, that we often read everything or anything as snark. But not everything is snark. Some shit is genuine and straightforward, or subtle and comes out of a place of respect. So you might read me wrong. So I don’t want to argue with you online.
Another reason: I don’t have the internet at home. No, it is not because I’m even too-cooler than those too cool young adults who are so rad that they don’t own a TV. It’s because I can’t afford the internet at home. And I am incapable of getting an office job where I sit online all day. Maybe you can afford the internet. I’m not going to shit on you for that. No value judgment will be made. But I don’t have ready access to it. So I’d rather use it for organizing, learning, or keeping in touch with loved ones than drawing out flame wars and feeding trolls and being one myself.
Please, don’t feel any disrespect. The internet is not my main plane of existence. I’m not assuming it’s yours, I’m just mentioning it isn’t mine. Maybe we’ll meet someday and we can discuss person-to-person over tea or rum why we so disagree on that. But please, over some means that is healthier than the internet.
I had a conversation late in September at Liberty Plaza that both pointedly stung me and represented a big part of the problem we have with building coalitions. I, a Marxist, and Eve, a progressive (RE: liberal), were having a conversation. Initially, it was my intention to have us place our distinct ideologies on the table, and our distinct analyses and visions, and then find those junctures at which we would meet along the way. To me, this is the best and most honest way to for liberals and revolutionary socialists (Marxist, anarchist or otherwise) to figure out how to function together where there are shared interests, and to respectfully and temporarily part at those moments where we disagree.
I think the conversation was going well, until a camera and some young impressionable activists encircled us. Then my conversant partner opportunistically shifted the direction away from coalition building, and toward division, speechifying for those present rather than responding to me. It was demagogic. And once our conversation had derailed toward disagreement, she put up her main defense, which is sometimes common among liberals. She would refuse to define terms like capitalism and violence, thereby preempting any real discourse on why I believed capitalism is a system to be opposed and why she thought a nebulus understanding of violence was something to always be opposed. The conversation had lived out its usefulness, so I moved on.
In the seventh week of OccupyWallStreet, I noted a sign that read “Not anti-capitalist, just anti-corporatist.” In a liberal’s hand, the sign would have been a personal declaration, but sitting in Broadway sidewalk, it seemed to claim to be an official position. So I dutifully said to my friends “Not in Liberty Plaza, Just in the Garbage,” and trashed the sign.
Because I think clear definitions are required for discourse, allow me to attempt a simple distinction between the two groups. By radicals, I generally mean anti-capitalists, both socialist (Marxist or anarchist or autonomist or Leninist) and more nihilistic radicals. By liberals I mean the self-professed progressives and moderates who believe that reforms to the United States political system are ends in themselves rather than means, and/or that capitalism is not a fundamentally exploitative system. To some extent, a great number of left wing nationalists, so-called socialists, social democrats, queer activists and others can be grouped in one of these two tents. An imperfect binary isn’t necessarily an inaccurate one.
So I will attempt to elaborate a methodology of coalition between (real) radical socialists and liberals, two groups that are fundamentally opposed in analysis of the world today and vision of the world they’d like to build for tomorrow.
It seems simple to me. First, we don’t waste time trying to convert each other. Some people will change their positions. They will switch from one to the other. We will have healthy conversations where we debate our points of contention. That’s good. It can be fun. And healthy. But as a general rule, I don’t think it should be our respective ambitions to win a stalwart over to one or the other side. Radicalization usually comes from more than just conversation, and people who become moderate will do so for their own reasons, not because a liberal puts them on the defensive.
What is healthy, on the other hand, is for us to be clear where we are each coming from. Let’s be willing to state it outright. If you’re a liberal, say so. “Communists disdain to conceal their views.” I’ve rarely met an anarchist who doesn’t jump to put it into the conversation. If we are discussing our analysis of Wall Street, or labor unions, or the eventual goals of OccupyWallStreet, it helps the conversation immensely if we know where each other is at. That can help us avoid the roadblocks of a healthy dialogue.
Once we begin to put our cards on the table, we should give our respective analyses of the particular question at hand- say, how to deal with permits, or the Community Board, or the police, or property destruction by an OWS participant, or what kinds of organizing we should be doing outside of Lower Manhattan. Again, we don’t discuss the particulars in order to persuade each other, but simply to know where each person is at.
Then we look at our goals, short term and long term. From there we begin to discern shared elements of our goals.
And here we come to the two practical questions. In which tactics do we advance our respective or shared goals. At one point do we have to work separately for our goals. And how to we operate so our respective tactics and language don’t put us into conflict, foment division or the image of division, or engage in work that disrupts the other’s work.
As an example, say we are interested in working on protesting a bank. The liberal wants to promote ethical business practices and government regulations. The radical doesn’t believe in ethical business practices, does support government regulations as a short term goal, but is more interested in taking down the power of the banks and promoting total opposition to the financial system that the banks are integral to. The two people agree to rally outside a meeting which the bank CEO is keynoting. They perhaps are both interested in disrupting the meeting. Rhetorically, they agree to message on questions of the bank’s crimes and the need for government regulation. Tactically they agree to get into the meeting and then disrupt it. The radical, perhaps, wishes to spray paint anti-bank stencils at all of the bank branches in a two block radius. The liberal thinks that is going too far, and wants to promote people buying shares in the bank to gain a seat at a shareholder meeting. They agree to engage in these latter tactics in geographically separate locations and not trash each other to other activists, on social media, or the news media. They also agree not to promote the entire movement as based on their particular ideology, but only to promote the general agreements of the movement, and their respective ambitions as their personal opinions.
It isn’t always easy. But it’s been done time and again. And playing up a theme that OccupyWallStreet is monolithic is dishonest and hinders our capacity to have tactical and strategic conversations. We have differences. We will engage in different overall political projects. But we have come together at Liberty Plaza. Let’s try to keep that going as functionally and creatively as we can.
How I Escaped JP Morgan Chase: a Bank Transfer Day tale
Once upon a time, I was a young man who felt societal pressures to open an account at a financial institution in order to save my money. We were all taught to do so, whether by the Berenstain Bears or fiscal responsibility exercises in third grade. I had the opportunity to join a Credit Union. Bingo!
But I had to move away, far from my credit union. And in this new land, I found not a single credit union that was open to the general public. So I chose a local bank. “At least I’m not feeding one of the big, bad wolves,” I told my still teenaged self.
A few years later, this bank was consumed in a tidal wave that washed ashore a vampire squid, whose skin was emblazoned with a calmingly blue pseudo-swastika. This vampire squid had chased me down and won the battle. Suddenly, all of the local bank’s branches had makeshift banners over theirs masts: proclaiming CHASE!
I then decided to escape once again. This time I was taken in by advertising. Another large safety house ran commercials with a bankers’ pin, gleefully satirizing the capitalist class. They also promised no fees. I opened an account with them, and for a year began to think I’d escaped.
But in the corporate sea, my new raft was once again set upon by the JP Morgan vampire squid, seized and overturned for all assets to enter within its sharp beak. Could I have no respite?
For a time, I was resigned to my fate. Every time I set out, I felt the long, slender tentacles and the sharp suckers of JP Morgan around my waste. Only with the advent of #OccupyWallStreet (hashtagged as a force of habit) did I finally deign to join family and friends in the protection of the country’s only labor union-owned bank. Amalgamated Bank, located in Las Vegas, Pasadena, Washington DC, New Jersey, and most of all across New York City. Wholly owned by Workers United, a sub-union of Service Employees International Union, one of our largest labor unions (of which I am a former shop steward).
I went into my Chase, and took to the customer service representative, who immediately pushed me with some condescension to have faith in those too big to fail. I responded it had claimed to nearly just topple, until pumped with hundreds of billions of dollars in baby blood by the very Congress we send to regulate it. When she became resigned to my triumph, she candidly agreed with my analysis. I left my last Chase personal banker with a grin on her lips. And from there, I joined Amalgamated Bank.
Today, just before Bank Transfer Day, while reading about the alleged 600,000 who left corporate banks for credit unions last month, a comrade decided she’d had enough of the tightening grasp of Bank of America. I accompanied her inside, she quickly closed her account, and walked just three blocks south of Liberty Plaza to the nearest Amalgamated. And that was that.
Let’s be clear. The most valuable political acts you can make are with your body and mind. Not with your dollar. Nor with your vote.
I’ve had the debate many times with people on both sides of me (to the left and the right). A little consumer activism can help alleviate suffering (as in the case of vegetarianism or boycotting Israeli businesses) or divest from criminal enterprises (like Coca Cola’s killing of Colombian trade unionists). But capitalism, as with any devil fish, is a flexible mollusk plenty capable of pulling through minor blocks and obstacles. It is the economic system, and finds ways to survive nips from eels and the evasion of its prey.
Make no illusions that we are upending the ship and sending the vampire squids to their doom with this small act. But they will be weaker. It requires a grand variety of tactics to take down any predator. So divest from the corporate banks. Join a credit union or Amalgamated. Buy unionmade, support workers coops, join consumer coops, shop farmers markets, but it’ll take more than that to end a system bent on sucking us dry.
You used to be able to demonstrate in Manhattan without cattle chutes. They are a morale killer, a form of state control that becomes hegemonic, and a public safety hazard. Police on horses are too. And police-assigned march routes. The more dissident groups cowered to state authorities, the narrower was the space for cattle chutes, the more police lined up, creating a second literal wall between ‘activists’ and ‘normals’, and the less inviting were our little jailed rallies.
Forgive me for using an old saying that is more often used against the oppressed. You give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. The them is cops and municipal governments. And those inches are our rights.
But in order to set up rights as our principal by which we don’t require permits, we have to know what we mean by rights. I’m a big fan of definitions. They help us make sense and come to a sharp conclusion. In this case, I’m going to speak to the two groups I prefer to speak to. For the liberals/progressives (of which I am not), rights can mean many things, but there is a sense that there are at least two legal documents that enshrine people’s rights within structures: the United States Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And for radicals (Marxists, anarchists, whomever else), we tend to believe that with exploitation and repression we have a fundamental right to resist as sentient beings held in a cage are want to do, just as the state or system has a right to defend itself. Many radicals will shy away from the word ‘right’, but indulge me for now.
If you are a liberal, then, you shouldn’t ever need a permit. Just keep your First Amendment on you at all times. “The government shall not make any law….abridging the freedom of speech or the right of the people to peaceably assemble…” If you don’t think you’ll ever be radicalized, but love standing in the street “speaking truth to power,” get that amendment tattooed on. Just show it to the cops, the judge, or any pol that tries to stand in your way.
A police state under a system of exploitation is antithetical to democracy. That means, if you believe in this country, you have to press the contradiction, regaining and expanding your most famous constitutional right.
As a radical, I have a very different conclusion, even though I am happy to point out the irony of the first amendment in a police state to any officer who unconstitutionally demands my submission. I have a certain degree of respect for state violence. It’s constant. It’s visible if you open your eyes. It’s simply one of the chief methods a system of exploitation uses to defend itself. That’s fine. There should be no shock at the level of violence a class of wealthy thieves wields against those who attempt to take the commons to decry them. They will send their cops, and their goons, and their feds. That’s fine. It’s a major factor in how the system has survived this far. Domination is the big stick to hegemony’s carrot.
But just as the system is justified in attempting to preserve itself, like any organism, no matter how parisitic, the host whose blood is sucked does not have to stand still while the leech attaches its proboscis to our skin. Setting aside the question of violence and non-violence, it means that we must disobey a system in whose hegemony we no longer consent. If I don’t believe in God, why give my tithe to the church? If I don’t acknowledge the state or the capitalists as my natural masters, why allow them to tell me where I can stand and how long I am allowed to stand there?
Our willful subjugation to police violence and coercion is our endorsement of their increasing suppression of our basic liberties. It is true, in Egypt the military regime killed six hundred people to combat a similar democratic movement. But in our country, with the highest prison population in the world, whose ascent began during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements (and was partly populated with political prisoners), we are at grave risk every time we acquiesce. The sacrifices we take today will provide a more bountiful tomorrow. And every time we cower, a tornado of state violence spirals into existence.
As a teenager during the environmentalist, prison industrial complex and anti-sweatshop movements that built up to the crescendo that was the Counter Globalization movement, I got my first taste of horizontalist process. It was empowering and stifling. It was inefficient and radical. It stuck with me.
For years after, I had sometimes incredibly wonderful experiences and often trying ones with what is essentially an anti-authoritarian style that tries to get us accustomed to the kind of world we want to build over the ashes of the old. Some people call it democratic, direct and participatory democracy, but politically its early proponents tended to shy away from such language. We weren’t trying to let a majority vote dominate. We wanted everyone to place down stones to build a road together towards each destination.
It is elemental to the space-occupying global uprising we now find ourselves in. And while some of the participants who have spread horizontalism continue to be so, most of its users are no longer anti-authoritarians, anarchists, autonomists, or libertarian marxists. They’re liberals. Amid these progressives there are those who fear a world that is based at large on the horizontalism they are participating in today, but there are many more progressives that are beginning to experience how we are running our people power as the seeds of a new way of decision making and administration.
But we don’t grow without honesty. There is a mythos that rejects the terms of leadership in Liberty Plaza and across the uprising. Just because you deny something in word doesn’t mean it seizes to exist in deed.
When I arrived in Madrid, two weeks into the four week occupation of Plaza del Sol by thousands of indignados, there was a sense of centralization. All media voices were controlled by the Media Commission. Indignados privately mumbled to me about the increasing degree to which some core people who had been there from the start were an inner circle. Assemblies were somewhat controlled. For better, to get over repeititous concerns by newcomers or speakers not in their right minds. For worse, preventing an easy conduit through which the uninitiated could participate and shutting out some proposals. But the assemblies were efficient, got a lot if shit done, and were still a consensus-based model of direct democracy.
Julius Nyerere, the first president of independent Tanzania and by his own admission a failed builder of African socialism, argued that “leaders must not be masters.” It’s a potent claim. There is a distinction. Leadership does not have to indicate permanence, unquestionability, domination. It can be very temporary. I can accept your lead to the train station. You can lead a workshop. Some people with flags and drums can lead a march. Anyone can be a leader.
Horizontalism, at its weakest, rejects such language without admitting that every structure requires at least temporary instances of leadership and respect for experience. You bottom-line rather than lead. You’re a facilitator, not a leader or a teacher. You form a working group, not a committee. But in point of fact, these distinctions are tenuous.
Without admitting that some of these terms are simply temporizing ways to say leadership, we fall into a trap. We are disingenuous with ourselves and those around us. Inner circles and cliques arise. Workaholics at best, and opportunists at worst, take on too many responsibilities without fostering those skills in enough people around them and stepping back. People become defensive and feel accused if anyone dare suggest they are too central a figure in this or that, or doing too much work.
If we are honest, on the other hand, you or I might not get defensive. If someone is particularly good at what they have focused on, and there is no need to ask them to lessen their control, then we don’t need to do so. If we accept that some people have leadership roles, in the spirit of horizontalism, we then give them the responsibility of all good leaders and organizers: the responsibility of making more leaders and organizers. Of imparting their capacities upon the willing and capable. If we are all leaders, none can be our master.
Leadership is not a bad thing. It is not an enemy to liberty. It is not a cardinal sin whose name we dare not speak. And if we treat it as such, we get caught up in our own mythology without accepting responsibility and learning to grow.
Roseanne Barr. Lupe Fiasco. Russell Simmons. Mark Ruffalo. Susan Sarandon. Tim Robbins. Immortal Technique. Kanye West. Mike Meyers. Alec Baldwin. John Cusack. Oliver Stone. Tom Morello. Margaret Atwood. Radiohead. John Carlos. Yoko Ono. Deepak Chopra. Sponge Bob Squarepants. Your name has officially been dropped. Now if that’s all you were here for, you’re welcome.*
In the first week of Occupy Wall Street, I was suggesting we produce some Map of the Stars fliers and pass them out at Times Square to all of the tourists. The map would have one destination. Liberty Plaza. The only reason I didn’t do it is because these days I’m not resourceful enough for even that kind of basic infrastructure.
But the celebs kept coming. And commenting. And tweeting.
And two questions present themselves. One I’ll rhetorically present as a set: Are they coming as celebrities? Or are they coming as human beings? Are they coming for cameras and flash and to be seen? Or are they coming to twinkle their fingers in general assemblies, donate sleeping bags and push brooms for the sanitation working group?
Then, once we get over that question, we have to ask, what can they do for this project? We are engaging in an uprising that has occupied space to create direct democracy. What can these celebrities offer us?
Some have donated cash or material needs. More need to. Some were early and thus helped us get coverage.
But few have taken their special abilities and positions to contribute to our movement. Lupe Fiasco donated, but he also wrote down some rhymes fit for print. Chris Hedges helped get other big names connected to the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Naomi Wolf got herself arrested. Tom Morello followed lesser known musicians, from Red Baarat to Kofre to Majesty to Koba Sounds to Jen Waller to Remi, in playing acoustic sets.
We have seen enough actors and directors stop by to fill a major studio blockbuster and two indulgent Sundance films. Some have worked with indignados/occupiers to stay true to the messages and horizontalism of the uprising, while others have come on their own initiative and through our media savvy contacts to put their own foot forward. Hopefully, some have also met some of the small time artists who have been on the scene with a sense of struggle and solidarity that has not carried any desire to be known or be seen. Others have done little but drop by the curiosity with a red carpet-winning smile.
Please, come by. Learn. Listen. Join. Donate. Open doors. And best of all, use your contacts and your special talents and roles to create art or media or messaging that is true to what we have been sleeping on this plaza for. Produce an album. Publish artwork or interviews. Film a funny video clip. Promote our media alongside your own. Our posters, our TV shows (like Democracy Now!), our video, our music, our witticisms, our dreams, our visions, our pain, and credit us, without stealing our ideas to make your name sound like it has more integrity or grit or sincerity. But I’m not sure what being seen like its a necessary upper West Side cocktail fundraiser does for us. Be conscientious giants in an uprising that may very well quake the media system that has given you the stature you ride on.
Oh, and by the way, any of y’all need an assistant? Because I need a damn job. At least pay my gas bill, that shit is too damn high.
*(Omitted are activist and journalist celebs like Michael Moore and Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky and throngs of others, who are not actually in the same category.)
Why the Far Right is Comfortable with us and How to Change That
Neo-Nazis in Denver and Indianapolis have endorsed the local Occupy Wall Street struggles in their respective cities. The Lyndon LaRouche cult was at Bowling Green on day one. And we simply can’t shake the large number of Ron Paul supporters that are a very real wing of this uprising. The progressive (RE: liberal), who does not review the world in ideological terms, may not understand either the reasoning behind or the danger endemic in each of these far right interventions upon our struggle.
How could nazis come to something that is filled with Blacks and Latinos and Muslims, that is checkered with ethnic Jews and orthodox Jews and large Jewish religious services? How could Ron Paul people expect to get a strong voice in a movement that is largely made of people who are insisting upon more regulations and social services, rather than their absolute elimination?
Much has been made about one of the principal qualities of Occupy Wall Street that was done superbly well. At (yet another) time when public opinion had no love for the barons of finance capitalism, the initiators of the General Assemblies that had intermittently met this Summer had picked the correct target. Wall Street. To socialists and anti-capitalists (Leninist, Anarchist or otherwise) this meant finance capital. To progressives this meant finance corporations.
But what it represents in the public consciousness regardless of ideology remains the same for all but its most blind apologists. Wealth and greed derived from a system of lawful theft on a scale that has continued to ascend to the highest in world history. Twenty million people died last year of starvation in a world that does indeed have enough food. Mr. Moneybags on Wall Street kept the luxury industry afloat. Workers were laid off by corporations that paid zero taxes to a government that claimed to trust them with creating jobs. A political system that has (always) been bought and sold and then consistently placed men from the business sector in public seats of power that they happily mismanaged. It’s what I call the John Bolton Rule, named after a man who had encouraged the abolition of the United Nations and was promptly placed as the United States representative in that body. It might as well be the Robert Simon Rule, a man who opposed public health care and then was named Cook County Board of Health Services Interim Chief, presiding over negligence and massive cuts.
Finance capital. Most indignados, or occupiers, or whatever we are calling ourselves, don’t see any distinction between it and the other corporations that have ground us down, laid us off, and laughed all the way to the diamond jeweler in what we imagine are coattails and top hats. But the far right does.
So when we moved against finance capital, the Ron Paul supporters saw a splendid opportunity. They wanted us to blame the Federal Reserve, upon which our system of capitalism places a considerable burden for its survival. The Ron Paul people are always opportunists. To the Christian right they mention their idol’s opposition to abortion and gay rights. To the left they began with their opposition to war. To the Tea Party they pushed their opposition to taxes and regulations. To us they come with sign in hand that the real culprit is government-corporate connections through the Federal Reserve. They argue we should go back to the gold standard. We should end paper money. Their solution would not preserve capitalism, though they think it would. But it would also lead to wider scale poverty, more crass exploitation as basic labor and safety and environmental laws would be uprooted, and greater pain for those around the world who already know too much of it.
A progressive can’t usually see the forest for the trees. They see the single issues that a opportunistic right winger lays before them but don’t stand back to see their overall agenda. It is easy to red-bait or worry about left wing or labor cooptation of a movement, because we wear our ideologies on our sleeves. But it is difficult to disentangle the rhetoric around the FrED RESERVE. It is difficult to argue with a 9/11 Truthers who doesn’t present an argument but only questions and false claims. It is difficult to see the big picture when anyone is congested by conspiracy theories, nitpicked issues, convoluted solutions. And United States political discourse is constantly clouded by these smogs. (It helps that much of the socialist/anarchist left doesn’t present any analyses that is any stronger and less weighted down than that of a Michael Moore or Naomi Klein progressive.)
And the Ron Paul line of thinking actually does lead us to the neo-nazis. Blame the Federal Reserve. Blame finance corporations. To those who oppose the Federal Reserve and insist 9/11 was an inside, the Fed represents a structure through which the Trilateral Commission (*Conspiracy Theory Buzz Word*) controls economies and our liberties. Some elite cabal meet at the Bilderberg Group (*Conspiracy Theory Buzz Word*) and centralize power into evil bankers. Bankers. Bankers. Banking is evil. Bankers are the bad guys. But suddenly, through the magic of a convoluted mind, bankers are Rothschilds are Jews. Bankers become a stand-in for Jews.
Neo-nazism was a racialist, brutal repression of anti-capitalism and pro-capitalist liberalism. But they are lunatics, though, and consider themselves a third position aside from capitalism and Marxism. Read Hitler, he sounds about as rational as Glenn Beck. Or vice versa. But Hitler and Mussolini came to power by sending disaffected veterans against socialist peasants and communist workers. They redbaited and racialized until the petit bourgeois and patriotic workers no longer valued liberty in a fight to stamp out Jewish Banker Bolshevism. Geez, it’s almost fun coming up with this disgusting trite.
So when we at Liberty Plaza, and now across the globe, said we were heading to Wall Street to blame the bankers for their theft of our planet and its inhabitants, the neo-nazis were happy to conflate bankers with Jews. They supported the Tea Party because of its hate. Then they supported our opposition to bankers because they identified bankers with one of the groups they hate the most. The irony is lost on them. Neo-nazis are anti-corporate, and have attempted to infiltrate the left wing and anti-racist counter globalization in Europe. They forget how many corporations we battle today profited off of the nazi persecution of those regimes’ enemies and scapegoats.
As a Marxist and an indignado, I am happy with who we chose to blame. But it is in that narrow gap between a class analysis and our inclusive and beautiful 99% rhetoric that we inadvertently opened space for all these misbegotten philosophies of the far right. If we say bankers and corporations outside of the context of an analysis of the capitalist class, we open ourselves to those who hold bankers and corporations as some mythical entities that can be conflated with those they hate.
The solution isn’t to reject the rhetoric of the 99% as an incredibly inclusive protagonist and the Wall Street barons as antagonists. We are the 99% because we have people from all classes, races, nationalities, identities in our ranks. And to remain inclusive means to sometimes take on the pain and struggle of our different elements. Just as some progressives naively beg the police that their pensions are a part of our struggle, we have to make a greater emphasis on prisons, police brutality, deportations, the undocumented underclass, gentrification. We have to be an anti-racist movement. The POC Working Group opposed a Black man who held an anti-Jewish sign. Likewise, we have to shift our politics and our analyses, as divergent from each other as they are, to necessitate anti-racist and feminist politics.
That doesn’t mean kicking out people who are ignorant. That means challenging those who desire to remain ignorant. A friend told me about some apolitical veterans at Occupy DC who were so open because of this shift that they began to internalize critiques of the gender binary that they were respectfully offered. I have watched Hasidic Jews hang with feminists, Muslims in hijabs sit with topless comrades. They didn’t let their conservatism repel them.
But it does mean kicking out unrepentant racists and misogynists. It does mean taking up as a whole the prison and deportation industrial complexes just as much we do the commodification of seeds, the privatization of water, and the profiteering of debt. It means making spaces inclusive for those who don’t wish to exclude. Challenging ourselves and those around us to all grow in this incredible outbreak of direct democracy and action. It means ingraining a sense of inclusivity and anti-racist in everything we do within this uprising.
As for the Ron Paul fanatics, there is one possible obvious solution. A staunch majority of us, in Liberty Plaza, across the country and around the world, prefer stiffer regulations and expanded social services. We believe in taxing the rich. If those are our demands, or at least more specifically discussed within our messaging, we are drawing a clear line between what we are fighting for and the ravings of two consitent(ly reactionary) pols, Ron and Rand Paul. Perhaps we don’t show them the door in the same way we do neo-fascists, but they will have to come to the contradiction of their involvement in a movement that does not have their ideology coursing through its veins.
Let’s take a firm stance against those who would play upon our frustrations as an opportunity to spread hate. Let’s be inclusive by removing those who exclude. And let’s stop dismissing people who deal with particular intersections of oppression as some special interest group.
There are flashpoints in our lives. Some of us see them, feel them more than others. We gravitate to them. Our entire lives are conflict, so we rush towards the sparks where those conflicts are most pronounced. Those moments where we might actually have a chance of winning.
I get mocked by my friends and comrades because I use we a lot. Because I am part of a family, a class, a international struggle, a movement, a network, an ethnic identity, and queer masculinity. And when I say we I don’t think I’m speaking for myself. But I am particular, just like anyone else.
In my lifetime I have seen many such flashpoints. Uprisings in Miami and Quebec against neo-liberal free trade, a double euphemism for stage what we might properly call neo-colonialism, itself a stage within capitalism. Uprisings in DC against that very same system that uses corruption, war and debt to grind underdeveloped former colonies into neo-colonial bondage. I have seen a United States military occupation, general strikes by immigrant workers, and ongoing democratic revolutions in Latin America. I have seen a massive anti-war movement, workers living months on the strike picket lines, and Hondurans living under dictatorship like each day might be their last. I saw people from New Orleans try to reconstruct their lives, and soldiers return from wars with a commitment against Empire. I was in Madrid for the Acampada Sol, and it reminded me of the convergence spaces before the counter globalization movement began to ebb.
And from afar, I watched uprisings in Seattle, Athens, Madison, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Palestine, Nepal, Iceland, Iran, Bangkok, Sidi Bouzid, Cairo, Buenos Aires, United States prisons. I was fortunate enough to often have friends who were there. Sometimes the people won, and sometimes they took victories imbued with defeat or a longer fight.
And I was bright enough to show up to Bowling Green on September 17th, twenty minutes late, before an uninspiring and smaller than expected crowd attempted to march on Wall Street from behind capital’s most legendary golden calf. I had friends there. We stuck it out through the weekend. Dropped back and forth that first week as if it was duty to support an uninspiring attempt at non-violent revolt against the corporations that present the great face of this modern stage of capitalism.
I sometimes sniped from the sidelines, while entering to support and volunteer and offer usually friendly criticism. I am a leftist after all, and I am used to defeat and swerve dangerously close to the guard rails that protect us from jaded cynicism. But the past month at Liberty Plaza, a spatial uprising that has inspired a truly global uprising in all of the continents, from North Pole to South Pole, has built itself up into a tide that offers us something. We have the opportunity to move on building our own direct democracy, devoid of their sense of order and etiquette, and seize the reins of our own fate through direct democracy.
I have seen Earth First disable logging roads, Anti-Racist Action end neo-nazi formations, Copwatch catch cops, the homeless seize vacant lots, workers seize factories (including once in this country), communities seize private colleges, immigrants descend upon violent ICE raids, militants defend homes from eviction, and the dens of the Boss Class shut down for business. That is direct action. It is a great part of what keeps me going.
When reporters asked us how we hope this ends, we told them we don’t believe it will.